Medicaid Patients Use, Not Abuse Emergency Rooms

Medicaid enrollees visit the emergency department appropriately like most patients, but have more complex health needs and less access to primary care, according to a report from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC).  Non-urgent visits accounted for just 10% of Medicaid visits to the ER, which is very close to that of the general population – about 8%. Most have serious and complex medical problems that can only be addressed in the emergency department. Given Medicaid’s historically low reimbursement rates, the shortage of primary care physicians accepting these patients isn’t surprising. The lack of access to primary care is even more acute for Medicaid patients with disabilities who are disproportionately represented on Medicaid rolls. Alex Rosenau, DO, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians  said, “The lack of access to primary care certainly contributes to Medicaid patients’ use of the ER, but for Medicaid patients with serious mental illness, multiple illnesses and homelessness, even having a primary care physician is no bar against appropriate emergency department use. In general, the combination of poverty and illness present challenges with few genuinely simple solutions, despite misplaced beliefs that significant health care costs could be saved by keeping patients out of the ER. Efforts by various states to deny payment for Medicaid visits to emergency departments are dangerous and wrong.” For more information, visit www.acep.org.

Last Updated 09/23/2020

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