Gaining or Losing Insurance Coverage Associated with More Visits to the ER
Studies have consistently found that people who lack health insurance coverage are more likely to use the emergency room (ER) for needed health care. Often – particularly for poorer people – this is because they have nowhere else to go. In other cases, a medical problem that would have been detected and treated through preventive care ends up progressing into an emergency if it is left untreated.
It follows quite naturally that people who have recently lost health insurance are also more likely to visit the ER than they did while they had insurance. What’s less intuitive is the idea that people who have recently gained insurance are also more likely to go to the ER. But, surprising as it may be, that’s the result of a new analysis of data from the National Health Interview Survey, published online on Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study and its findings were described in an article by John Gever of MedPage Today.
The study compared four groups of people: consumers who had consistent coverage during the past year, those who were consistently uninsured during the past year, those who had become insured during the past year, and those who had become uninsured during the past year. Nearly 80% of participants had been consistently insured, and another 13% were consistently uninsured. The remaining participants were evenly split between the two other groups.
Compared to people who were consistently insured, those who had recently gained coverage were about 32% more likely to visit the ER, and those who had recently lost coverage were about 39% more likely. Interestingly, people who had recently enrolled in Medicaid, rather than a private insurer, had an even bigger chance of an ER visit – about 45% more than people with consistent coverage.
In light of health reform, the study authors note that many Americans will go through health insurance changes in the next few years, and that emergency departments should prepare for a possible increase in patients as the law is fully implemented.