HHS: One-fifth of ED visits are by uninsured patients

Here's some data to chew on: According to HHS research, roughly one-fifth of all 120 million emergency department visits in 2006 were by uninsured persons. The data, while probably drawn on realistic sources, is well-suited to boost the Obama administration's goal of extending universal health coverage. (Let's just say that sometimes the truth is conveniently timed.)

The research, which is drawn from HHS's Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, is managed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and generates national estimates on the number of ED visits in all community hospitals. The data breaks out ED visits by region, urban/rural locations, teach status, ownership and trauma designation. The sample also gathers data on why patients came to the ED, what treatment they received, and what their disposition was at the end of the visit.

Perhaps such stats will offer some clarity to the debate over just who's coming into the ED, and why. Other research suggests that Americans hold many myths on the subject to be true. For example, one common assumption is that uninsured patients are to blame for ED overcrowding, since they supposedly come in incessantly for non-urgent conditions. However, a recent study concludes that of about 115 million annual ED visits, just 17 percent are made by uninsured patients, similar to the proportion of uninsured patients in the U.S. population.

This data suggests that neither insureds nor uninsureds use the ED disproportionately, according to the study, which appeared last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

To learn more about this stat:
- read this HHS press release

Related Articles:
Common assumptions about uninsured ED users are false, says study
Study: OR Medicaid cuts push up ED visits
Newly-insured still use ED often in Massachusetts
Hospitals working to avoid non-emergency ED care