Uncompensated Care Decreased At Hospitals In Medicaid Expansion States But Not At Hospitals In Nonexpansion States
Author: David Dranove, Craig Garthwaite, Christopher Ody
One pillar of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was its expected impact on the growing burden of uncompensated care costs for the uninsured at hospitals. However, little is known about how this burden changed as a result of the ACA’s enactment. We examine how the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s coverage expansions affected uncompensated care costs at a large, diverse sample of hospitals. We estimate that in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA, uncompensated care costs decreased from 4.1 percentage points to 3.1 percentage points of operating costs. The reductions in Medicaid expansion states were larger at hospitals that had higher pre-ACA uncompensated care burdens and in markets where we predicted larger gains in coverage through expanded eligibility for Medicaid. Our estimates suggest that uncompensated care costs would have decreased from 5.7 percentage points to 4.0 percentage points of operating costs in nonexpansion states if they had expanded Medicaid. Thus, while the ACA decreased the variation in uncompensated care costs across hospitals within Medicaid expansion states, the difference between expansion and nonexpansion states increased substantially. Policy makers and researchers should consider how the shifting uncompensated care burden affects other hospital decisions as well as the distribution of supplemental public funding to hospitals.