A newly published report from UnitedHealthcare makes a strong financial case for moving routine, non-complex medical procedures — such as a gallbladder removal — from hospital outpatient departments to ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs). However, one industry observer cites a potential downside to shifting low-risk surgeries away from hospitals, and research suggests that access to ASCs is not equal across all populations.
For its report, UnitedHealthcare examined claims data from the insurer’s employer-sponsored plan members during the 12 months ending February 2020. Of the 6 million routine outpatient procedures that were performed in hospital outpatient departments for this population, 56% involved non-complex patients who had an ASC within a short distance from their homes. If such patients were to choose an ASC as their site of care, it would reduce the cost of routine procedures by an average of 59% — saving consumers $684 on average per procedure, according to UnitedHealthcare.
Those estimated cost savings are attributable to the fact that surgeries performed at ASCs are well-known to be cheaper than those taking place at a hospital. According to the UnitedHealthcare report, the average price of common procedures performed in a hospital outpatient department in 2019 was $7,716, or 144% more than the average price of the same procedures performed in ASCs.
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