Objectives: To compare charges and payments for outpatient pediatric emergency visits across payer groups to provide information on reimbursement trends.
Methods: Total charges and payments for emergency department (ED) visits Medicaid/State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), privately insured, and uninsured pediatric patients from 1996 to 2003 using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Average charges per visit and average payments per visit were also tracked, using regression analysis to adjust for changes in patient characteristics.
Results: While charges for pediatric ED visits rose over time, payments did not keep pace. This led to a decrease in reimbursement rates from 63% in 1996 to 48% in 2003. For all years, Medicaid/SCHIP visits had the lowest reimbursement rates, reaching 35% in 2003. The proportion of visits from children insured by Medicaid/SCHIP also increased over the period examined. In 2003, after adjustment, charges were $792 per visit from children covered by Medicaid/SCHIP, $913 for visits from uninsured children, and $952 for visits from privately insured children.
Conclusions: Reimbursements for outpatient ED visits in the pediatric population have decreased from the period of 1996 to 2003 in all payer groups: public (Medicaid/SCHIP), private, and the uninsured. Medicaid/SCHIP has consistently paid less per visit than the privately insured and the uninsured. Further research on the effects of these declining reimbursements on the financial viability of ED services for children is warranted.