Musculoskeletal Urgent Care Centers Restrict Access for Patients with Medicaid Insurance Based on Policy and Location

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2021 Nov 1;479(11):2447-2453. doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000001825.


Background: As the urgent care landscape evolves, specialized musculoskeletal urgent care centers (MUCCs) are becoming more prevalent. MUCCs have been offered as a convenient, cost-effective option for timely acute orthopaedic care. However, a recent "secret-shopper" study on patient access to MUCCs in Connecticut demonstrated that patients with Medicaid had limited access to these orthopaedic-specific urgent care centers. To investigate how generalizable these regional findings are to the United States, we conducted a nationwide secret-shopper study of MUCCs to identify determinants of patient access.

Questions/purposes: (1) What proportion of MUCCs in the United States provide access for patients with Medicaid insurance? (2) What factors are associated with MUCCs providing access for patients with Medicaid insurance? (3) What barriers exist for patients seeking care at MUCCs?

Methods: An online search of all MUCCs across the United States was conducted in this cross-sectional study. Three separate search modalities were used to gather a complete list. Of the 565 identified, 558 were contacted by phone with investigators posing over the telephone as simulated patients seeking treatment for a sprained ankle. Thirty-nine percent (216 of 558) of centers were located in the South, 13% (71 of 558) in the West, 25% (138 of 558) in the Midwest, and 24% (133 of 558) in New England. This study was given an exemption waiver by our institution's IRB. MUCCs were contacted using a standardized script to assess acceptance of Medicaid insurance and identify barriers to care. Question 1 was answered through determining the percentage of MUCCs that accepted Medicaid insurance. Question 2 considered whether there was an association between Medicaid acceptance and factors such as Medicaid physician reimbursements or MUCC center type. Question 3 sought to characterize the prevalence of any other means of limiting access for Medicaid patients, including requiring a referral for a visit and disallowing continuity of care at that MUCC.

Results: Of the MUCCs contacted, 58% (323 of 558) accepted Medicaid insurance. In 16 states, the proportion of MUCCs that accepted Medicaid was equal to or less than 50%. In 22 states, all MUCCs surveyed accepted Medicaid insurance. Academic-affiliated MUCCs accepted Medicaid patients at a higher proportion than centers owned by private practices (odds ratio 14 [95% CI 4.2 to 44]; p < 0.001). States with higher Medicaid physician reimbursements saw proportional increases in the percentage of MUCCs that accepted Medicaid insurance under multivariable analysis (OR 36 [95% CI 14 to 99]; p < 0.001). Barriers to care for Medicaid patients characterized included location restriction and primary care physician referral requirements.

Conclusion: It is clear that musculoskeletal urgent care at these centers is inaccessible to a large segment of the Medicaid-insured population. This inaccessibility seems to be related to state Medicaid physician fee schedules and a center's affiliation with a private orthopaedic practice, indicating how underlying financial pressures influence private practice policies. Ultimately, the refusal of Medicaid by MUCCs may lead to disparities in which patients with private insurance are cared for at MUCCs, while those with Medicaid may experience delays in care. Going forward, there are three main options to tackle this issue: increasing Medicaid physician reimbursement to provide a financial incentive, establishing stricter standards for MUCCs to operate at the state level, or streamlining administration to reduce costs overall. Further research will be necessary to evaluate which policy intervention will be most effective.

Level of evidence: Level II, prognostic study.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care / economics*
  • Ambulatory Care / organization & administration
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities / economics*
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities / organization & administration
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Geography
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics*
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / economics
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy
  • Orthopedics / economics*
  • Orthopedics / methods
  • Policy
  • United States