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Uninsured and underinsured Americans face barriers to access to medical care. The objective of this study was to characterize the effect of insurance status on whether patients with a torn meniscus proceed to elective arthroscopic knee surgery.The records from January 2003 through April 2006 at a single academic orthopaedic surgery institution in Massachusetts were retrospectively reviewed to identify patients diagnosed with a meniscal tear and to determine whether surgery had been performed within six months after the diagnosis. Six categories of insurance were identified: private insurance, Workers’ Compensation, Medicare, Medicaid, Uncompensated Care Pool, and self pay. A comparison of the proportions of insured and uninsured patients who underwent surgery was the primary outcome measure.A total of 1127 patients were identified, and 446 (40%) of them underwent surgery within six months after an office visit. The patients with and without surgery had similar age and sex distributions. When patients were divided, according to their insurance status, into insured and uninsured groups, no significant difference was found in the rate of surgery (p = 0.23). However, subgroup analysis revealed significant differences among the six insurance categories. Logistic regression analysis showed that patients in the self-pay group had a lower rate of surgery than those with private insurance (odds ratio, 0.33; 95% confidence interval, 0.14 to 0.75; p = 0.008), whereas patients receiving Workers’ Compensation (odds ratio, 1.93; 95% confidence interval, 1.05 to 3.55; p = 0.034) and those receiving Medicaid (odds ratio, 1.63; 95% confidence interval, 1.09 to 2.42; p = 0.016) had higher surgical rates than those with private insurance.The rate of elective arthroscopic knee surgery for meniscal tears varied significantly for some insurance categories at this single academic institution in Massachusetts. Further work is necessary to clarify the patient and surgeon factors influencing these disparities in clinical decision-making.Prognostic Level II. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.