Study: With Medicaid, ER visits remain high for two years
Acquiring health insurance does not lead to drop in emergency room usage
“Contrary to the conjecture that Medicaid would get people to [move] out of the emergency room and to the primary care physician, we’re seeing a persistent increase in emergency room use.”
—Amy Finkelstein, John and Jennie S. MacDonald Professor of Economics
People enrolled in Medicaid significantly increase their emergency room visits for at least two years after they first sign up, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT economist. The finding will likely surprise those health care experts who have projected that people would make fewer ER visits after acquiring health insurance.
The finding is the latest one from a unique randomized, controlled trial of Oregon’s health care system. An earlier finding from the research project showed that ER visits initially increased after people enrolled in Medicaid. In response, some health care analysts predicted the number of ER visits would still attenuate with time, as Medicaid users became more fully immersed in the health care system and used primary care physicians more often.
Instead, the new study shows that ER visits, which increase by about 65 percent for Medicaid users in their first six months in the program, hold steady at roughly that rate for two solid years, not just the initial time period.
“Contrary to the conjecture that Medicaid would get people to [move] out of the emergency room and to the primary care physician, we’re seeing a persistent increase in emergency room use,” says Amy Finkelstein, the John and Jennie S. MacDonald Professor of Economics at MIT, who is a co-author of a new paper on the findings.