Some supporters of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul say that putting uninsured Americans on Medicaid will reduce costly emergency-room visits by giving them more access to care in other settings.
But a new study found the reverse: A group of 10,000 low-income Oregon residents who recently obtained Medicaid coverage visited ERs 40% more often than those without insurance.
The new Medicaid recipients used ERs more often for all kinds of health issues, including problems that could have been treated in doctors’ offices during business hours, according to the study published Thursday in the journal Science. Earlier studies had found the same patients used more of other medical services as well.
In the latest study, which is based on records of 25,000 lottery participants, the authors said the increase in ER visits wasn’t surprising, because Medicaid made them effectively free. “As I tell my economics students, when something is free, people use more of it,” said Dr. Finkelstein.
By comparison, check out this story of patients declining treatment when they learn that they’ll have to pay for it. Chest X-ray for someone who’s got a cough, admission for someone who “felt chest pain” but wasn’t having a heart attack, these and more were deemed non-essential by the patients demanding them once they discovered that they wouldn’t be free.