Common assumptions about uninsured ED users are false, says study

Half of the six most common assumptions about emergency department use by uninsured patients are false, and what's more, the remaining three are supported by fact, but are equally true for both insured and uninsured patients, according to new research appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Perhaps the most common assumption about uninsured patients--that they frequently come to the ED for non-urgent care--actually isn't supported by current research, according to study lead author Manya Newton, M.P.H., M.S. of the University of Michigan. According to her data, non-urgent visits by uninsured patients climbed from 11 percent to 16.7 percent from 1997 through 2005. However, that was just a bit larger increase than the four-percentage-point climb in such visits, the authors noted, citing the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

Data suggests that uninsured patients are less likely to be admitted than those with insurance, but this could be because physicians have a higher threshold for admitting the uninsured, researchers suggest.

Another common assumption, that uninsured patients are to blame for ED overcrowding, is not clearly supported by existing data, researchers said. Of about 115 million annual ED visits, just 17 percent are made by uninsured patients. Since this is similar to the proportion of uninsured vs. insured patients overall, this suggests that neither group uses the ED disproportionately, the study concluded.

To learn more about common (and possibly inaccurate) assumptions about the uninsured in EDs:
- read this MedPageToday piece

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