Original Article

Elective Hand Surgery Is Delayed among Private Insurance Holders

Authors: Samuel Schick, MD, Joseph W. Elphingstone, MD, Caleb Hood, BS, Aaron J. Casp, MD, Yazen Shihab, BS, Achraf Jardaly, MD, Kyle D. Paul, BS, Brent A. Ponce, MD, Eugene W. Brabston, MD, Amit M. Momaya, MD


Objectives: Patients with private healthcare plans often defer nonemergent or elective procedures toward the end of the year once they have met their deductible. No previous studies have evaluated how insurance status and hospital setting may affect surgical timing for upper extremity procedures. Our study aimed to evaluate the influence of insurance and hospital setting on end-of-the-year surgical cases for elective carpometacarpal (CMC) arthroplasty, carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, and trigger finger release, and nonelective distal radius fixation.

Methods: Insurance provider and surgical dates were gathered from two institutions’ electronic medical records (one university, one physician-owned hospital) for those undergoing CMC arthroplasty, carpal tunnel release, cubital tunnel release, trigger finger release, and distal radius fixation from January 2010 to December 2019. Dates were converted into corresponding fiscal quarters (Q1–Q4). Using the Poisson exact test, comparisons were made between the case volume rate of Q1–Q3 and Q4 for private insurance and then for public insurance.

Results: Overall, case counts were greater in Q4 than the rest of the year at both institutions. There was a significantly greater proportion of privately insured patients undergoing hand and upper extremity surgery at the physician-owned hospital than the university center (physician owned: 69.7%, university: 50.3%; P < 0.001). Privately insured patients underwent CMC arthroplasty and carpal tunnel release at a significantly greater rate in Q4 compared with Q1–Q3 for both institutions. Publicly insured patients did not experience an increase in carpal tunnel releases during the same period at both institutions.

Conclusions: Privately insured patients underwent elective CMC arthroplasty and carpal tunnel release procedures in Q4 at a significantly greater rate than publicly insured patients. This finding suggests private insurance status, and potentially deductibles, influence surgical decision making and timing. Further work is needed to evaluate the impact of deductibles on surgical planning and the financial and medical impact of delaying elective surgeries.

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