Cost Implications of Insurance Associated Disparities in Post-Acute Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

Jonathan S. Theros, Katelyn B. Zumpf, Tara Lagu, Saieesh Rao, Brian J. Nasca, Allen W. Heinemann, Michael B Shapiro, Karl Y. Bilimoria, Anne Stey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Post-Acute care after spinal cord injury (SCI) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) influences neurological function regained. Inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRFs) have more intensive care and result in lower mortality and better functional outcomes compared with skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). This study sought to quantify inpatient rehabilitation access by insurance and estimate the cost implications. We conducted a retrospective observational cohort study utilizing 2015-2017 California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development database of injured adults with SCI and/or TBI. The primary predictor was insurance status. The outcome was discharge destination (home, IRFs, SNFs, long-Term acute care [LTAC]) modeled using multi-variable multinomial mixed-effects logistic regression controlling for age, diagnosis, Weighted Elixhauser Comorbidity Index, and New Injury Severity Score. Cost of care for discharge to IRFs versus SNFs was estimated by adjusted quantile regression. Cost simulation predicted the adjusted cost difference if all publicly insured participants were discharged to an IRF. We identified 83,230 patients with an injury mechanism and a primary acute care hospitalization diagnosis of TBI (90.9%), SCI (8.3%), or both (0.8%) who were discharged to an IRF, SNF, LTAC, or home. Publicly insured patients were more likely than privately insured patients to go to SNFs versus IRFs (odds ratio [OR]: 2.17, 95% confidence interval [CI 2.01-2.34]). Sub-group analysis of 6416 participants showed an adjusted median total cost difference of $18,461 (95% CI [$5,908-$38,064]) and adjusted cost-per-day of the post-Acute encounter of $1,045 (95% CI [$752-$2,399]) higher for discharge to IRFs versus SNFs. Cost simulation demonstrated an additional adjusted cost of $364M annually for universal IRF access for the publicly insured. Publicly insured SCI and TBI Californians are less frequently discharged to IRFs compared with their privately insured counterparts resulting in a lower short-Term cost of care. However, the consequences of decreased intensive rehabilitation utilization in terms of functional recovery and long-Term cost implications require further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-501
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023


  • cost of rehabilitation
  • inpatient rehabilitation
  • insurance disparities
  • spinal cord injury
  • trauma rehabilitation
  • traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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