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Looking beyond administrative health care data: the role of socioeconomic status in predicting future high-cost patients with mental health and addiction

de Oliveira C, Mondor L, Wodchis WP, Rosella LC. Can J Psychiatry. 2021; Apr 1 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Introduction — Previous research has shown that the socioeconomic status (SES)-health gradient also extends to high-cost patients; however, little work has examined high-cost patients with mental illness and/or addiction. The objective of this study was to examine associations between individual-, household- and area-level SES factors and future high-cost use among these patients.

Methods — We linked survey data from adult participants (ages 18 and older) of 3 cycles of the Canadian Community Health Survey to administrative health care data from Ontario, Canada. Respondents with mental illness and/or addiction were identified based on prior mental health and addiction health care use and followed for 5 years for which we ascertained health care costs covered under the public health care system. We quantified associations between SES factors and becoming a high-cost patient (i.e., transitioning into the top 5%) using logistic regression models. For ordinal SES factors, such as income, education and marginalization variables, we measured absolute and relative inequalities using the slope and relative index of inequality.

Results — Among our sample, lower personal income (odds ratio [OR] = 2.11, 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.54 to 2.88, for CAD$0 to CAD$14,999), lower household income (OR = 2.11, 95% CI, 1.49 to 2.99, for lowest income quintile), food insecurity (OR = 1.87, 95% CI, 1.38 to 2.55) and non-homeownership (OR = 1.34, 95% CI, 1.08 to 1.66), at the individual and household levels, respectively, and higher residential instability (OR = 1.72, 95% CI, 1.23 to 2.42, for most marginalized), at the area level, were associated with higher odds of becoming a high-cost patient within a 5-year period. Moreover, the inequality analysis suggested pro-high-SES gradients in high-cost transitions.

Conclusions — Policies aimed at high-cost patients with mental illness and/or addiction, or those concerned with preventing individuals with these conditions from becoming high-cost patients in the health care system, should also consider non-clinical factors such as income as well as related dimensions including food security and homeownership.

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