A study just published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine shows something that many people suspected: Patients with Medicaid (i.e. government “insurance”) tend to use the emergency department much more often than patients with private insurance.
After studying 230,000 participants in the National Health Interview Survey, the researchers found that Medicaid patients were more than twice as likely to use the emergency department as their privately-insured counterparts. When barriers to timely primary care were added into the picture (including difficulty reaching doctor on telephone, difficulty obtaining timely appointment, long waits in the physician’s office, limited clinic hours, and lack of transportation), emergency department utilization increased significantly. 40% of Medicaid patients had used the emergency department more than once in the prior year. 51% of Medicaid patients with one barrier had more than one ED visit in the prior year and 61% of patients with two or more barriers had more than one ED visit in the prior year.
I’m sure that there are other reasons for the higher than normal emergency department utilization, the biggest one being lack of a disincentive for using emergency departments versus primary care physicians.
The article concluded that “Expansion of Medicaid eligibility alone may not be sufficient to improve health care access.”
Insurance doesn’t equal access. Wonder where I’ve heard that before ….