Lending a Hand to Health Care Disparities: A Cross-sectional Study of Variations in Reimbursement for Common Hand Procedures

Elizabeth B. Odom, Elspeth Hill, Amy M. Moore, Donald W. Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Despite the role of one’s hands in human function and quality of life, financial disincentives to perform common hand procedures in patients with government-sponsored insurance plans may lead to longer wait times and decreased access to care. Here, we identify the variations in reimbursement for 4 common hand procedures as a step toward understanding these financial implications to develop safeguards to minimize effects on access to care. Methods: Billing data were collected over a 10-year period for patients undergoing carpal tunnel release (open, Current Procedural Terminology 64721; endoscopic, 29848), cubital tunnel release (64718), ganglion cyst excision (25111), and interposition arthroplasty (25447). Patients were placed into cohorts according to insurance type—private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or worker’s compensation—and these were directly compared. Results: A total of 3489 procedures between 2005 and 2015 were identified in this study (carpal tunnel 65.8%, cubital tunnel 28.7%, ganglion cyst excision 4.1%, and interposition arthroplasty 13.8%). In all, 54.7% of patients had private insurance; 26.3%, Medicare; 10.5%, worker’s compensation; and 8.5%, Medicaid. Reimbursement, as a percentage of charge, differed significantly by payor type for all cases and by procedure. On average, worker’s compensation plans reimbursed 65.5% of submitted charges; private insurance, 50.6%; Medicare, 25.1%; and Medicaid, 24.6%. Conclusions: We found that wide variations in reimbursement for common hand procedures exist and may preclude some surgeons from offering certain procedures to a subset of patients. Understanding these discrepancies is a key first step in minimizing a potential care delivery disparity for this patient population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)556-562
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • carpal tunnel
  • cubital tunnel
  • disparity
  • ganglion cyst
  • hand surgery
  • health care reform
  • insurance
  • payor mix
  • reimbursement


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