Recent Trends and Geographic Variation in the Safety Net

Published in: Medical Care, v. 42, no. 5, May 2004, p. 408-415

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2003

by M. Susan Marquis, Jeannette Rogowski, Jose J. Escarce

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BACKGROUND: Policymakers and researchers are concerned that changes in the healthcare market have stressed and weakened the safety net nationwide. OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study were to investigate variations in the safety net across communities and over time and to explore the effect of market changes on the safety net. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The authors examined the safety net in all large urban communities from 1993 to 1998. Data from a variety of sources measure uncompensated hospital care, local government spending for health, admissions to safety net hospitals, visits to outpatient departments of safety net hospitals, visits to community health centers, and demographic and market characteristics of the communities. Descriptive analyses examine trends and community variations. Multivariate methods are used to estimate the effect of market structure and of economic factors on the safety net. RESULTS: The safety net did not erode in urban areas over the study period. There was substantial variation across communities, but the disparity did not increase over time. HMO penetration and hospital competition are not significantly related to variations in the safety net, although demographic and economic factors are. CONCLUSIONS: Local financing capacity is a factor in variations across communities in the safety net. The economic downturn and pressures on state budgets could lead to future problems.

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