Universal coverage fails to reduce ER visits

To the dismay of supporters of Massachusetts's healthcare reform law, universal coverage hasn't affected the number of emergency room visits, according to a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

In 2006, Massachusetts mandated that residents purchase health insurance with the exception of certain low-income families. One of the anticipated side effects would be reduced numbers of ER visits because residents theoretically would have greater access to preventative care through primary care physicians.

However, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found emergency room visits actually increased by 4.1 percent from 2006 to 2008, instead of dropping as reform hopefuls wished for. Researchers attribute the increased numbers to lack of primary care.

Despite the effects on ER visits, a recent poll showed that resident support for the Massachusetts health reform law is growing. Sixty-three percent of Massachusetts residents support the state's health reform, up 10 percentage point from two years ago, according to a poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and The Boston Globe.

The Massachusetts health law led the way for nationwide requirement for near-universal coverage, and industry experts are watching closely as other states release admission rates to assess the success of health reform.

For more:
- read study abstract
- here's the Beth Israel press release
- check out the Boston Globe and Harvard poll