Does Universal Insurance and Access to Care Influence Disparities in Outcomes for Pediatric Patients with Osteomyelitis?Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2020 07; 478(7):1432-1439.CO
Healthcare disparities are an issue in the surgical management of orthopaedic conditions in children. Although insurance expansion efforts may mitigate racial disparities in surgical outcomes, prior studies have not examined these effects on differences in pediatric orthopaedic care. To assess for racial disparities in pediatric orthopaedic care that may persist despite insurance expansion, we performed a case-control study of the outcomes of children treated for osteomyelitis in the TRICARE system, the healthcare program of the United States Department of Defense and a model of universal insurance and healthcare access.
We asked whether (1) the rates of surgical intervention and (2) 90-day outcomes (defined as emergency department visits, readmission, and complications) were different among TRICARE-insured pediatric patients with osteomyelitis when analyzed based on black versus white race and military rank-defined socioeconomic status.
We analyzed TRICARE claims from 2005 to 2016. We identified 2906 pediatric patients, of whom 62% (1810) were white and 18% (520) were black. A surgical intervention was performed in 9% of the patients (253 of 2906 patients). The primary outcome was receipt of surgical intervention for osteomyelitis. Secondary outcomes included 90-day complications, readmissions, and returns to the emergency department. The primary predictor variables were race and sponsor rank. Military rank has been used as an indicator of socioeconomic status before and during enlistment, and enlisted service members, particularly junior enlisted service members, may be at risk of having the same medical conditions that affect civilian members of lower socioeconomic strata. Patient demographic information (age, sex, race, sponsor rank, beneficiary category [whether the patient is an insurance beneficiary from an active-duty or retired service member], and geographic region) and clinical information (prior comorbidities, environment of care [whether clinical care was provided in a civilian or military facility], treatment setting, and length of stay) were used as covariates in multivariable logistic regression analyses.
After controlling for demographic and clinical factors including age, sex, sponsor rank, beneficiary category, geographic region, Charlson comorbidity index (as a measure of baseline health), environment of care, and treatment setting (inpatient versus outpatient), we found that black children were more likely to undergo surgical interventions for osteomyelitis than white children (odds ratio 1.78; 95% confidence interval, 1.26-2.50; p = 0.001). When stratified by environment of care, this finding persisted only in the civilian healthcare setting (OR 1.85; 95% CI, 1.26-2.74; p = 0.002). Additionally, after controlling for demographic and clinical factors, lower socioeconomic status (junior enlisted personnel) was associated with a higher likelihood of 90-day emergency department use overall (OR 1.60; 95% CI, 1.02-2.51; p = 0.040).
We found that for pediatric patients with osteomyelitis in the universally insured TRICARE system, many of the historically reported disparities in care were absent, suggesting these patients benefitted from improved access to healthcare. However, despite universal coverage, racial disparities persisted in the civilian care environment, suggesting that no single intervention such as universal insurance sufficiently addresses differences in racial disparities in care. Future studies can address the pervasiveness of these disparities in other patient populations and the various mechanisms through which they exert their effects, as well as potential interventions to mitigate these disparities.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE
Level III, prognostic study.