Medicaid patients more likely to crowd emergency rooms than uninsured

emergency room

President Barack Obama’s argument for expanding Medicaid just took another blow via a new study from Science which found that Americans on the government-run health insurance program are more likely to end up in emergency rooms that those who are uninsured:

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.

“Now we know—the hope that Medicaid will save money turns out not to be correct, at least in the first two years,” said Amy Finkelstein, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and a principal investigator of the study.

On average, the Medicaid recipients visited ERs in 12 Portland-area hospitals 1.4 times during an 18-month period, compared with 1.02 visits for the control group without insurance. Using $435 as the average cost of an ER visit, the researchers calculated that Medicaid increased annual ER spending by $120 a covered person. Hospitals often end up footing the bill for uninsured patients.

The Daily Caller points out this morning that the findings in this study are “direct contradiction to the Obama administration’s claims that his healthcare reform law would put a dent in costly visits to the ER as a way to cut spending.” That’s a point worth driving home. In fact, this study confirms similar research conducted in the past.

For example, an October 2008 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “[o]nly about 17 percent of E.R. visits in the United States in the last year studied were by uninsured patients.” The most interesting finding in this particular study, as Ronald Bailey noted at the time, was that patients on government-run health insurance were “more likely to crowd into emergency rooms for minor complaints than…the uninsured.

It’s no wonder why then-Medicare Chief Actuary Richard Foster testified in January 2011 that the healthcare cost-savings promises made by the administration were “false, more so than true.”

This isn’t the first time that Oregon’s Medicaid program has undermined the narrative that President Obama has tried to put forward. A study last year by New England Journal of Medicine found that there was no difference in health outcomes between those who were covered by Medicaid expansion and those who remained uninsured. That finding came despite Oregon spending $1,172 more per Medicaid recipient.

Despite the persistence of Obamacare supporters to push states to opt-in to Medicaid expansion, the Oregon study only confirmed what other research has found — that people on this government-run health insurance program generally don’t have better health outcomes than those who are uninsured.

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