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Charges for Initial Visits for Uninsured Patients at Musculoskeletal Urgent Care Centers in the US

May 09, 2022

Journal: Journal of the American Medical Association

Who: Laurie C. Yousman, BS; Walter R. Hsiang, MD, MBA; Akshay Khunte, BS; Michael Najem, BS; Grace Jin, BS; Alison Mosier-Mills, BS; Siddharth Jain, BS; Daniel Wiznia, MD

Overview: In recent years, specialized musculoskeletal urgent care centers (MUCCs) have opened across the US. Uninsured patients may increasingly turn to these orthopedic-specific urgent care centers as a lower-cost alternative to emergency department or general urgent care center visits.

The researchers’ objective in this study was to assess out-of-pocket costs and factors associated with these costs at MUCCs for uninsured and underinsured patients in the US.

In this survey study, a national secret shopper survey was conducted in June 2019. Clinics identified as MUCCs in 50 states were contacted by telephone by investigators using a standardized script and posing as uninsured patients seeking information on the out-of-pocket charge for a new patient visit.

The primary outcome was each clinic's out-of-pocket charge for a level 3 visit, defined as a new patient office visit requiring medical decision-making of low complexity. Linear regression was used to examine correlations of price with clinic policy against accepting Medicaid, median income per zip code, and Medicaid reimbursement for a level 3 visit.

Of 565 MUCCs identified, 558 MUCCs were able to be contacted (98.8%); 536 of the 558 MUCCs (96.1%) disclosed a new patient visit out-of-pocket charge. Of those, 313 (58.4%) accepted Medicaid insurance and 326 (60.8%) were located in states with expanded Medicaid at the time of the survey. The mean (SD) price of a visit to an MUCC was $250 ($110). Clinic policy against accepting Medicaid (β, 22.91; 95% CI, 12.57-33.25; P < .001), higher median income per zip code (β, 0.00056; 95% CI, 0.00020-0.00092; P = .003), and increased Medicaid reimbursement for a level 3 visit (β, 0.737; 95% CI, 0.158-1.316; P = .01) were positively correlated with visit price. The overall regression was statistically significance (R2 = 0.084; P < .001).

In this survey study, MUCCs charged a mean price of $250 for a new patient visit. Medicaid acceptance policy, median income per zip code, and Medicaid reimbursement for a level 3 visit were associated with differences in out-of-pocket charges. These findings suggest that accessibility to orthopedic urgent care at MUCCs may be limited for underinsured and uninsured patients.

Submitted by John Ready on May 09, 2022