Importance: Trauma is an expensive and unpredictable source of out-of-pocket spending for American families. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) sought to improve financial protection by expanding health insurance coverage, but its association with health care spending for patients with traumatic injury remains largely unknown.
Objective: To evaluate the association of ACA implementation with out-of-pocket spending, premiums, and catastrophic health expenditures (CHE) among adult patients with traumatic injury.
Design, Setting, and Participants: Data from a nationally representative sample of US adults aged 19 to 64 years who had a hospital stay or emergency department visit for a traumatic injury from January 2010 to December 2017 were analyzed using the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Multivariable generalized linear models were used to evaluate changes in spending after ACA implementation. Additionally, 4 income subgroups were evaluated based on ACA thresholds for program eligibility: lowest-income patients (earning 138% or less of the federal poverty level [FPL]), low-income patients (earning 139% to 250% of the FPL), middle-income patients (earning 251% to 400% of the FPL), and high-income patients (earning more than 400% of the FPL). Data were analyzed from February to December 2019.
Exposures: Implementation of the ACA, beginning January 1, 2014.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Out-of-pocket spending, premium spending, out-of-pocket plus premium spending, and likelihood of experiencing CHE, defined as out-of-pocket plus premium spending exceeding 19.5% of family income.
Results: Of the 6288 included patients, 2995 (weighted percentage, 51.3%) were male, and the mean (SD) age was 41.4 (12.8) years. Implementation of the ACA was associated with 31% lower odds of CHE (adjusted odds ratio, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.54 to 0.87; P = .002). Changes were greatest in lowest-income patients, who experienced 30% lower out-of-pocket spending (adjusted percentage change, -30.4%; 95% CI, -46.6% to -9.4%; P = .01), 26% lower out-of-pocket plus premium spending (adjusted percentage change, -26.3%; 95% CI, -41.0% to -8.1%; P = .01), and 39% lower odds of CHE (adjusted odds ratio, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.44 to 0.84; P = .002). Low-income patients experienced decreased out-of-pocket spending and out-of-pocket plus premium spending but no changes in CHE, while middle-income and high-income patients experienced no significant changes in any spending outcome. In the post-ACA period, 1 in 11 of all patients with traumatic injury and 1 in 5 with the lowest incomes continued to experience CHE each year.
Conclusions and Relevance: Implementation of the ACA was associated with improved financial protection for US adults with traumatic injury, especially lowest-income individuals targeted by the law's Medicaid expansions. Despite these gains, injured patients remain at risk of financial strain.