Emergency room visits increase for newly insured in Oregon, study finds

January 7, 2014

A new study from Oregon is casting doubt on the assumption that expanding health insurance will decrease the use of Emergency Departments (ED) for non-emergency care and will eventually lead to a reduction in overall healthcare costs.

 

A new study from Oregon is casting doubt on the assumption that expanding health insurance will decrease the use of Emergency Departments (ED) for non-emergency care and will eventually lead to a reduction in overall healthcare costs.

The study, published in the journal of Science, pulled data from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, which used a drawing to assign Medicaid to 30,000 low-income adults from a wait list of 90,000 people.

The researchers found that ED use was about 40% higher for the newly insured. They estimate the increase in annual Medicaid spending in the ED to be about $120 per insured person.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allowed for the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to adults with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Twenty-three states chose to opt-out of the expansion. About 3.9 million new enrollees gained coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion.

Proponents of the ACA argue that increasing coverage will increase access to primary care for non-emergent, treatable conditions. But the study authors concluded that ED use increased across a broad range of visit types, including those that could have been treated in an outpatient setting.