Strategies for spinal surgery reimbursement: bundling in the working-age population

Michael K. Dalton*, Christer Mjåset, Adoma Manful, Melvin D. Helgeson, William Wynn-Jones, Zara Cooper, Tracey P. Koehlmoos, Joel S. Weissman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Introduction: Bundled payments for spine surgery, which is known for having high overall cost with wide variation, have been previously studied in older adults. However, there has been limited work examining bundled payments in working-age patients. We sought to identify the variation in the cost of spine surgery among working age adults in a large, national insurance claims database. Methods: We queried the TRICARE claims database for all patients, aged 18–64, undergoing cervical and non-cervical spinal fusion surgery between 2012 and 2014. We calculated the case mix adjusted, price standardized payments for all aspects of care during the 60-, 90-, and 180-day periods post operation. Variation was assessed by stratifying Hospital Referral Regions into quintiles. Results: After adjusting for case mix, there was significant variation in the cost of both cervical ($10,538.23, 60% of first quintile) and non-cervical ($20,155.59, 74%). Relative variation in total cost decreased from 60- to 180-days (63 to 55% and 76 to 69%). Index hospitalization was the primary driver of costs and variation for both cervical (1st-to-5th quintile range: $11,033–$19,960) and non-cervical ($18,565–$36,844) followed by readmissions for cervical ($0–$11,521) and non-cervical ($0–$13,932). Even at the highest quintile, post-acute care remained the lowest contribution to overall cost ($2070 & $2984). Conclusions: There is wide variation in the cost of spine surgery across the United States for working age adults, driven largely by index procedure and readmissions costs. Our findings suggest that implementing episodes longer than the current 90-day standard would do little to better control cost variation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Bundled payments
  • Episode of care
  • Payment reform
  • Spine surgery


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