Potential impact of Affordable Care Act-related insurance expansion on trauma care reimbursement

Document Type



General Surgery


Background: Nearly one quarter of trauma patients are uninsured and hospitals recoup less than 20% of inpatient costs for their care. This study examines changes to hospital reimbursement for inpatient trauma care if the full coverage expansion provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were in effect.
Methods: We abstracted nonelderly adults (ages 18-64 years) admitted for trauma from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample during 2010-the last year before most major ACA coverage expansion policies. We calculated national and facility-level reimbursements and trauma-related contribution margins using Nationwide Inpatient Sample-supplied cost-to-charge ratios and published reimbursement rates for each payer type. Using US census data, we developed a probabilistic microsimulation model to determine the proportion of pre-ACA uninsured trauma patients that would be expected to gain private insurance, Medicaid, or remain uninsured after full implementation of the ACA. We then estimated the impact of these coverage changes on national and facility-level trauma reimbursement for this population.
Results: There were 145,849 patients (representing 737,852 patients nationwide) included. National inpatient trauma costs for patients aged 18 years to 64 years totaled US $14.8 billion (95% confidence interval [CI], 12.5,17.1). Preexpansion reimbursements totaled US $13.7 billion (95% CI, 10.8-14.7), yielding a national margin of -7.9% (95% CI, -10.6 to -5.1). Postexpansion projected reimbursements totaled US $15.0 billion (95% CI, 12.7-17.3), increasing the margin by 9.3 absolute percentage points to +1.4% (95% CI, -0.3 to +3.2). Of the 263 eligible facilities, 90 (34.2%) had a positive trauma-related contribution margin in 2010, which increased to 171 (65.0%) using postexpansion projections. Those facilities with the highest proportion of uninsured and racial/ethnic minorities experienced the greatest gains.
Conclusion: Health insurance coverage expansion for uninsured trauma patients has the potential to increase national reimbursement for inpatient trauma care by over one billion dollars and nearly double the proportion of hospitals with a positive margin for trauma care. These data suggest that insurance coverage expansion has the potential to improve trauma centers' financial viability and their ability to provide care for their communities.
Level of evidence: Economic analysis, level II.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University

Publication (Name of Journal)

Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery