KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Study: Despite Popular Theory, Medicaid Patients Visit ER Mostly For Emergencies

Medicaid patients may not overuse the emergency room for routine care, despite popular notion, a new study has found.

The Washington Post: Study: Most Medicaid Patients Visit The ER For Urgent, Not Routine, Care
Policymakers frequently say that Medicaid patients overuse the emergency room for routine care, citing it as a factor driving up health care costs. But a new study says that the majority of Medicaid visits to the emergency room are for urgent or serious issues (Kliff, 7/11).

Reuters: Medicaid Patients Turn To Hospitals For Emergencies, Not Routine Care
Most people covered by government health insurance for the poor visit hospital emergency rooms for perceived emergencies, not for routine care, much like those with private insurance, according to a study released on Wednesday. Researchers said the study helps dispel the notion that poor patients are clogging hospitals for routine treatment -- for a bad cold, for example -- that others receive at lower cost in a clinic or at a doctor's office (Heavey, 7/11).

Modern Healthcare: Reforms Needed To Cut ER Costs: Report
The belief that Medicaid enrollees overuse hospital emergency departments for routine care may be overstated, but primary-care offices still may not be equipped to handle relatively minor but still urgent cases as quickly and effectively, according to a new report by the Center for Studying Health System Change. The report also suggested that hospitals may be exacerbating ED overuse problems by seeking to draw people into their departments with billboard advertising and electronic messages that highlight the departments' short wait times (Robeznieks, 7/11).

Other studies look at quality at community health centers, teaching doctors about the cost of care, and global payments and a Blue Cross spending reduction in Massachusetts --

Los Angeles Times: Study: Community Health Centers Sometimes Top Private Practices
Federally funded community health centers perform equal to or better than private practices on a number of quality-care measures, according to a new study. The results demonstrate that community health centers are capable of providing high-quality care to an often complex patient population (Bardin, 7/11).

Kaiser Health News: Teaching Doctors About The Cost Of Care
All new doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, promising to care for their patients to the best of their abilities. But what does that mean in terms of the cost of that care, when medical debt accounts for more than 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in the United States (Gold, 7/11)?

Kaiser Health News: Mass. Global Payment Approach Lowers Costs, Improves Care
There's some encouraging news in the ongoing struggle to control health care costs without sacrificing quality. The Alternative Quality Contract, a global payment model put in place by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in 2009, has both curbed costs and improved the quality of care, according to a Harvard Medical School study published today in the journal Health Affairs (Schultz, 7/11).

Boston Globe: Blue Cross Plan Shows Reduction In Spending
The largest private-sector effort to tame medical spending in Massachusetts appears to be getting results, as doctors who agreed to work on a budget have cut costs by using less-expensive imaging and lab companies and expanding office hours to reduce emergency room use. Health spending for patients treated through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ pioneering global-payment program grew more slowly in 2010 than for patients whose physicians were paid the traditional way — receiving a separate fee for every office visit, test, and procedure. At the same time, the 4,800 doctors in the program scored higher on measures of quality of care, according to research published Wednesday (Kowalczyk, 7/11).

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