Will healthcare reform drive up ED use?

Image removed.Medicaid patients use the emergency department more frequently than uninsured patients, as they still have trouble accessing primary care, according to a research letter in today's issue of JAMA.

Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of California ED visits by adults 19 to 64 years of age from 2005 to 2010, and found the number of visits to EDs increased by 13.2 percent to 6.1 million per year.

The largest increase in ED visit rates occurred among adult Medicaid beneficiaries, who had higher rates than both uninsured and privately insured patients.

Moreover, Medicaid patients' high and growing ED use for ambulatory care sensitive conditions suggests the trend will continue with Medicaid expansion under healthcare reform, according to the research announcement.

Echoing those concerns, James McCarthy, M.D., of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston told MedPage Today the Affordable Care Act's expansions to Medicaid "will certainly increase [ED visits] as Medicaid beneficiaries will have the most difficulty getting into primary care clinics."

To prevent Medicaid patients from making frequent visits to the ED, hospitals could replicate efforts in Washington state that improve communication and care coordination between the ED and primary care providers, the article noted. The program in Washington educates Medicaid patients about appropriate care settings and involves case managers identifying and tracking frequent ED users, Michael Lee, M.D. of the Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, R.I., told MedPage.

Hospitals should target Medicaid "super-utilizers," using early intervention and primary care, to save money while improving the health outcomes of these complex patients, according to The Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services.

But despite concerns that high ED use by Medicaid patients stems from poor access to primary care, previous research has found most Medicaid patients go to the ED because they have to, seeking emergency or urgent care for serious medical problems, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the letter and announcement
- here's the MedPage article

Read more on