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More Medicaid Patients Using ERs, Study Finds
Date:8/10/2010

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Increasing numbers of Americans, especially adults on Medicaid, are using hospital emergency rooms for their health care, say researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.

Using data from 1997 through 2007, the researchers found that ERs are increasingly serving as "safety nets" in American health care, because by law they must treat all patients regardless of insurance or their ability to pay, the researchers say.

"There are alarming trends in emergency department visits," said lead researcher Dr. Ning Tang, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the university.

"In 1999 adults with Medicaid visited the emergency department at a rate 3.5 times higher than the rate of adults with private insurance, and in 2007 adults with Medicaid visited the emergency department at a rate five times that of adults with private insurance," she said.

Many of these visits by Medicaid patients were for conditions that could have been managed in a primary care clinic, Tang noted.

The report is published in the Aug.11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To calculate how emergency departments were being used, Tang's team reviewed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

The researchers classified emergency departments as "safety-net facilities" if more than 30 percent of all visitors were on Medicaid; if more than 30 percent of visits were by people without health insurance; or if more than 40 percent of visits were by Medicaid and uninsured patients.

The number of emergency departments designated as "safety net" centers increased from 1,770 in 2000 to 2,489 in 2007, the researchers found.

They found that during the time period studied, annual emergency department visits went from about 94.9 million to 116.8 million, an increase of 23 percent, w
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