The Effect of “Opt-Out” Regulation on Access to Surgical Care for Urgent Cases in the United States: Evidence from the National Inpatient Sample

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

In 2001, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a rule permitting states to “opt-out” of federal regulations requiring physician supervision of nurse anesthetists. We examined the extent to which this rule increased access to anesthesia care for urgent cases.

METHODS:

Using data from a national sample of inpatient discharges, we examined whether opt-out was associated with an increase in the percentage of patients receiving a therapeutic procedure among patients admitted for appendicitis, bowel obstruction, choledocholithiasis, or hip fracture. We chose these 4 diagnoses because they represent instances where urgent access to a procedure requiring anesthesia is often indicated. In addition, we examined whether opt-out was associated with a reduction in the number of appendicitis patients who presented with a ruptured appendix. In addition to controlling for patient morbidities and demographics, our analysis incorporated a difference-in-differences approach, with additional controls for state-year trends, to reduce confounding.

RESULTS:

Across all 4 diagnoses, opt-out was not associated with a statistically significant change in the percentage of patients who received a procedure (0.0315 percentage point increase, 95% confidence interval [CI] −0.843 to 0.906 percentage point increase). When broken down by diagnosis, opt-out was also not associated with statistically significant changes in the percentage of patients who received a procedure for bowel obstruction (0.511 percentage point decrease, 95% CI −2.28 to 1.26), choledocholithiasis (2.78 percentage point decrease, 95% CI −6.12 to 0.565), and hip fracture (0.291 percentage point increase, 95% CI −1.76 to 2.94). Opt-out was associated with a small but statistically significant increase in the percentage of appendicitis patients receiving an appendectomy (0.876 percentage point increase, 95% CI 0.194 to 1.56); however, there was no significant change in the percentage of patients presenting with a ruptured appendix (−0.914 percentage point decrease, 95% CI −2.41 to 0.582). Subanalyses showed that the effects of opt-out did not differ in rural versus urban areas.

CONCLUSIONS:

Based on 2 measures of access, opt-out does not appear to have significantly increased access to anesthesia for urgent inpatient conditions.

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