Joint Ventures in Dialysis Care: Improving Coordination or Enabling Market Power?
In virtually all areas of the U.S. healthcare service sector, physicians are barred from referring patients to entities in which they have an ownership stake. But this is not the case for the dialysis industry, which is exempt from such restrictions. Joint ventures between physicians and dialysis facilities exist at nearly 20 percent of facilities. This research will explore how physicians’ ownership ties with dialysis firms affect steering, spending, and outcomes. Using data obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Eliason, McDevitt, and Roberts will construct a first-of-its-kind dataset that tracks the ownership of dialysis facilities, including whether physicians have an ownership stake. They will add in data on dialysis providers and patients, including detailed Medicare claims and rich information on patient characteristics and health outcomes. An event-study analysis will allow the three researchers to test whether there is a clear trend-break in new patient arrivals and referrals when parties enter into a joint venture in order to examine how integration affects competition. The analysis will enable the researchers to study how patient caseloads and referrals at unintegrated facilities change after a nearby rival forms a joint venture, along with the impact of vertical integration on patient outcomes such as hospitalizations and mortality, as well as overall Medicare spending. Prior research has found that Black, Latinx, and low-income patients suffer disproportionately from kidney failure and often receive worse care, potentially making these groups especially vulnerable to providers’ growing market power and physicians’ conflicting interests.