Background/Purpose: Medicare’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program disproportionately penalizes safety-net hospitals (SNH) caring for vulnerable populations. This study assessed the association of insurance type with 30-day emergency department visits/observation stays (EDOS), readmissions, and cumulative costs in colorectal surgery patients. Methods: Retrospective inpatient cohort study using the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (2013–2019) with cost data in a SNH. The odds of EDOS and readmissions and cumulative variable (index hospitalization and all 30-day EDOS and readmissions) costs were modeled adjusting for frailty, case status, presence of a stoma, and open versus laparoscopic surgery. Results: The cohort had 245 private, 195 Medicare, and 590 Medicaid/uninsured cases, with a mean age 55.0 years (SD = 13.3) and 52.9% of the cases were performed on male patients. Most cases were open surgeries (58.7%). Complication rates were 41.8%, EDOS 12.0%, and readmissions 20.1%. Medicaid/uninsured had increased odds of urgent/emergent surgeries (aOR = 2.15, CI = 1.56–2.98, p < 0.001) and complications (aOR = 1.43, CI = 1.02–2.03, p = 0.042) versus private patients. Medicaid/uninsured versus private patients had higher EDOS (16.6% versus 4.1%) and readmissions (22.9% versus 14.3%) rates and higher odds of EDOS (aOR = 4.81, CI = 2.57–10.06, p < 0.001), and readmissions (aOR = 1.62, CI = 1.07–2.50, p = 0.025), while Medicare patients had similar odds versus private. Cumulative variable cost %change was increased for Medicare and Medicaid/uninsured, but Medicaid/uninsured was similar to private after adjusting for urgent/emergent cases. Conclusions: Increased urgent/emergent cases in Medicaid/uninsured populations drive increased complications odds and higher costs compared to private patients, suggesting lack of access to outpatient care. SNH care for higher cost populations, receive lower reimbursements, and are penalized by value-based programs. Increasing healthcare access for Medicaid/uninsured patients could reduce urgent/emergent surgeries, resulting in fewer complications, EDOS/readmissions, and costs.
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