ObamaCare, Americans were told, would help reduce the cost of healthcare in part by cutting down on the number of emergency-room visits by patients with less-than-urgent needs. Not so, says a new study from Oregon: Individuals covered by Medicaid — the vast majority of those newly obtaining coverage under ObamaCare — actually use the ER more often than those without insurance. This translates into an increase in expensive emergency care and a concomitant burden on taxpayers.
In the Beaver State, researchers had an ideal situation in which to test the hypothesis that increased health coverage would lead to decreased ER visits. In 2009, Oregon chose to expand its Medicaid coverage to about one-third of eligible adults, selecting those who would receive coverage by lottery. Researchers were then able to follow truly random samples of individuals who had coverage and those who did not.
What they found will surprise many ObamaCare supporters. According to the study, published in the journal Science, over an 18-month period following the Medicaid expansion, Oregonians who received coverage under the program actually visited ERs 40 percent more frequently than those who did not. “The pattern was so strong that it held true across most demographic groups, times of day and types of visits, including those for conditions that were treatable in primary care settings,” noted the New York Times.
Indeed, so lacking in urgency were most of these patients’ conditions that while ER visits increased, hospital admissions did not. “In fact,” reported the Los Angeles Times, “the increased use was most pronounced in cases classified as ‘primary care treatable’ and ‘non-emergent,’ authors wrote.”
“When you cover the uninsured, emergency room use goes up by a large magnitude,” senior study author and MIT economics professor Amy Finkelstein told the paper. “In no case were we able to find any subpopulations, or type of conditions, for which Medicaid caused a significant decrease in emergency department use.”
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