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Medicaid Expansion Sending More People to ER With Non-Emergencies: Study

As many emergency room employees will likely be able to confirm, the expansion of Medicaid has increased the number of emergency room visits, indicating that individuals are still using emergency rooms for non-emergency issues, according to a study released yesterday by the Brookings Institute.

Individuals who received Medicaid coverage visited hospitals 20% more once their coverage kicked in, according to the report.

Medicaid coverage removes the fear that an individual will receive a bill and have to worry about the bill being placed with a collection agency. But individuals may be opting to go to an emergency room for a non-emergency because it is more convenient than trying to find a doctor who takes Medicaid, according to the report.

“Existing evidence suggests that hospitals do not recover all — or even most — of the costs of providing this service, but they do enact meaningful financial and psychic costs on those from whom they attempt to collect,” according to the report.

A lack of clear information that is provided to individuals receiving Medicaid coverage may be contributing to the trend, the report noted.

For example, many newly-insured Oregon residents immediately tried to access dental services, but were told that the specific Oregon Medicaid plan they were enrolled in only covered “emergency dental services.” As a result, many individuals appear to have misinterpreted this restriction to imply that the only place they could receive care was at the [emergency room]. Given these anecdotes, we see room for more research understanding the extent of such misinformation and misperceptions, and we also see potential in interventions that try to provide information or assistance in accessing other healthcare services.

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