Concerns have arisen that the implementation of value-based, alternative payment models pegged to “bundled” episodes of care and/or patient outcomes may make it harder for a subset of patients to access the care they need. Specifically, some surgeons may be apprehensive to treat patients who have substantial medical comorbidities or socioeconomic situations that increase their risk of postsurgical complications and poor outcomes, because these alternative payment models often financially penalize physicians and hospitals for the cost of suboptimal results. The study by Shau et al. in the December 5, 2018 issue of The Journal provides data that sharpens the horns of this dilemma.
The authors used the National Readmissions Database to perform a propensity-score-matched comparison between >5,300 patients with Medicaid payer status who underwent a primary total hip arthroplasty (THA) and an equal number of patients with other types of insurance who also underwent primary THA. Shau et al. found that Medicaid-covered THA patients had significantly increased overall readmission rates (28.8% vs 21%, p <0.001, relative risk=1.37), mean length of stay (4.5 vs 3.3 days, p <0.0001), and mean total cost of care ($71,110 vs $65,309, p <0.0001), relative to the other group. These results strongly suggest that Medicaid payer status is an independent factor associated with increased resource utilization after total hip arthroplasty.
These findings can be viewed from a couple of different perspectives. First, from a preventive standpoint, surgeons and healthcare systems providing THA for Medicaid patients may need to spend more time preoperatively optimizing these patients (both physically and psychosocially) to decrease their postoperative resource burden and increase the likelihood of a good clinical outcome. Second, these results are further proof that any fair and effective alternative payment model needs to take into consideration factors such as Medicaid payer status and patient comorbidities. If they do not, such models will actually throw access barriers in front of patients in this demographic because providers may feel that caring for them increases the likelihood of being penalized financially.
Both perspectives are valid, so Medicaid payer status is a crucial factor to consider as alternative payment programs move forward. Nowadays, controlling costs is an important goal of any healthcare delivery system, but it must not lead to unintended discrimination in patient access to care. As we create further alternative payment models and refine existing ones, we must be careful not to prioritize cost cutting ahead of equitable patient access.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media