Research / BFI Working PaperJul 12, 2021

A Denial a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Abe Dunn, Joshua Gottlieb, Adam Shapiro, Daniel J. Sonnenstuhl, Pietro Tebaldi

Who bears the consequences of administrative problems in healthcare? We use data on repeated interactions between a large sample of U.S. physicians and many different insurers to document the complexity of healthcare billing, and estimate its economic costs for doctors and consequences for patients. Observing the back-and-forth sequences of claims’ denials and resubmissions for past visits, we can estimate physicians’ costs of haggling with insurers to collect payments. Combining these costs with the revenue never collected, we estimate that physicians lose 17% of Medicaid revenue to billing problems, compared with 5% for Medicare and 3% for commercial payers. Identifying off of physician movers and practices that span state boundaries, we find that physicians respond to billing problems by refusing to accept Medicaid patients in states with more severe billing hurdles. These hurdles are just as quantitatively important as payment rates for explaining variation in physicians’ willing to treat Medicaid patients. We conclude that administrative frictions have first-order costs for doctors, patients, and equality of access to healthcare.

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