HCFO Findings Brief: Time Is Money: Outpatient Waiting Times and Health Insurance Choices of Elderly Veterans in the United States

Vol. XV, No. 2
March 2012

Waiting times are a means to balance supply and demand when prices are fixed at levels that are too low to serve this balancing function. Outside of the United States, patients seeking outpatient care or elective surgery face substantial waiting times for these services. In contrast, the United States, has had relatively short wait times, due to higher health care prices and because a significant fraction of the population lacks health insurance (which reduces demand). The current role of the uninsured in helping balance healthcare supply and demand is expected to change with the passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The insurance coverage expansions in the ACA, coupled with possible cuts in Medicare fees to physicians, may result in many Americans facing a delay for services for the first time. In a HCFO-funded study,  Steve Pizer, Ph.D., and Julia Prentice, Ph.D., of the Boston VA Research Institute, investigated the effect of waiting times on health care utilization and insurance choices among elderly American veterans who have access to both the VA health system and Medicare-financed care.