Monica S. Aswani, DrPH, assistant professor in the UAB School of Health ProfessionsDepartment of Health Services Administration, wins the 2019 International Health Economics Association (iHEA) Student Prize for her paper titled “Differential Impact of Hospital and Community Factors on Medicare Readmission Penalties”.

Her paper was chosen over 40 other international entries and this is a significant award because Aswani is not a formally trained economist.

“Conventionally, the empirical approaches to account for hierarchical data are fixed effects or random effects, but seldom are both simultaneously employed,” said Aswani, one of two Phi Kappa Phi dissertation fellowship recipients in 2016.

“This study is innovative because it relies on a hybrid of both approaches to investigate the sources of geographic heterogeneity in Medicare readmission penalties.”

Aswani’s findings highlight how the underlying regional characteristics of where a hospital is located – such as the percentage of who is dual-eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, and black patients – can result in biased readmission penalties if not appropriately addressed.

“These results advance the timely policy debate of whether hospitals can be appropriately benchmarked in the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, which does not account for potentially important social and geographic risk factors,” said Aswani, whose research has been supported by the NIH National Institute on Aging and UAB’s Comprehensive Center for Health Aging

For her win, Aswani earns subsidized travel, accommodation and registration for the next iHEA Congress in Basel, Switzerland, July 13 – 17, 2019. There she will present the paper in a Student Prize Special Organized Session chaired by the iHEA President, or Chair of the Prize Committee.

“Monica is an important part of the HSA team and we know she will make impactful contributions with her scholarship and teaching.  We are thrilled that her excellent work is being recognized,” said Christy Harris Lemak, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Health Services Administration. “We believe that health economics is a fundamental competency for health care leaders, so we are fortunate to have an emerging international leader on our faculty.”

Aswani, who was the student speaker at UAB’s doctoral hooding ceremony on December 15, 2018, dedicated the iHEA award to her mentor, Meredith L. Kilgore, Ph.D., who passed away in October 2018, just one month before her dissertation defense.

“Dr. Kilgore was my primary mentor, chair of my dissertation committee, and sponsor of the fellowship grant that funded this work,” said Aswani. “I am truly humbled to receive this award because it honors his significant contributions to my overall career development and trajectory as a researcher.”

As a researcher, Aswani has contributed to health services research through fellowships at Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization. She remains committed to improving health care quality through rigorous, policy-relevant research, as well as training and mentoring the next generation of students.

Her research employs econometric methods to investigate how national payment reform efforts relate to the quality of and disparities in healthcare delivery. Her work has been published in Health Services Research, Journal for Healthcare Quality, and the Annual Review of Medicine. 

The International Health Economics Association was formally founded in 1994 to increase communication among health economists, foster a higher standard of debate in the application of economics to health and health care systems, and assist young researchers at the start of their careers.