Anticipated Changes in Reimbursements for US Outpatient Emergency Department Encounters After Health Reform

      Study objective

      We study how reimbursements to emergency departments (EDs) for outpatient visits may be affected by the insurance coverage expansion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as previously uninsured patients gain coverage either through the Medicaid expansion or through health insurance exchanges.


      We conducted a secondary analysis of data (2005 to 2010) from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. We specified multiple linear regression models to examine differences in the payments, charges, and reimbursement ratios by insurance category. Comparisons were made between 2 groups to reflect likely movements in insurance status after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act implementation: (1) the uninsured who will be Medicaid eligible afterward versus Medicaid insured, and (2) the uninsured who will be Medicaid ineligible afterward versus the privately insured.


      From 2005 to 2010, as a percentage of total ED charges, outpatient ED encounters for Medicaid beneficiaries reimbursed 17% more than for uninsured individuals who will become Medicaid eligible after Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act implementation: 40.0% versus 34.0%, mean absolute difference=5.9%, 95% confidence interval 5.7% to 6.2%. During the same period, the privately insured reimbursed 39% more than for uninsured individuals who will not be Medicaid eligible after Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act implementation: 54.0% versus 38.8%, mean absolute difference=15.2%, 95% confidence interval 12.8% to 17.6%.


      Assuming historical reimbursement patterns remain after Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act implementation, outpatient ED encounters could reimburse considerably more for both the previously uninsured patients who will obtain Medicaid insurance and for those who move into private insurance products through health insurance exchanges. Although our study does provide insight into the future, multiple factors will ultimately influence reimbursements after implementation of the act.
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