Capacity and Utilization in Health Care: The Effect of Empty Beds on Neonatal Intensive Care Admission

Am Econ J Econ Policy. 2016 May 1;8(2):154-185. doi: 10.1257/pol.20120393.


Because geographic variation in medical care utilization is jointly determined by both supply and demand, it is difficult to empirically estimate whether capacity itself has a causal impact on utilization in health care. In this paper, I exploit short-term variation in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) capacity that is unlikely to be correlated with unobserved demand determinants. I find that available NICU beds have little to no effect on NICU utilization for the sickest infants, but do increase utilization for those in the range of birth weights where admission decisions are likely to be more discretionary.