KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Most ER Visitors Have Some Type Of Health Insurance, Survey Finds

A National Center for Health Statistics study has found that of the one in five Americans who visit an emergency room every year, most have health insurance.

Reuters: "The survey contradicts a common perception that emergency rooms are packed with uninsured people and illegal immigrants. It also rejects some claims that people are using the emergency department for routine care - just 10 percent of visits were for non-urgent causes." The uninsured were no more likely to visit the emergency room than the insured, the study found. "Tamyra Carroll Garcia and colleagues at the center used two large national surveys of healthcare use in 2007 for their study." The number of ER departments has decreased, but the number of ER visits has increased, the study also found. "They found that the more income people had, the less likely they were to ever visit an emergency room. People over 75 and blacks were the most likely to visit emergency rooms. The American College of Emergency Physicians published a survey this month showing that 61 percent of emergency doctors surveyed believe U.S. healthcare reform will send even more people to emergency departments" (Fox, 5/19).

USA Today: "The results may surprise some who believe that ERs mainly serve uninsured people, says second author Amy Bernstein, chief of the Analytic Studies Branch in the Office of Analysis and Epidemiology for the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the National Center for Health Statistics. 'We were trying to show characteristics of people who use the ER. There are some perceptions. ... A lot of people think it's predominantly used by uninsured people because they don't have a normal source of primary care, but this particular brief shows this is not the case,' Bernstein says. The total number of ER visits in 2007 was 116,802,000, Bernstein says, and one in five Americans have been to the ER in the past year. … Medicaid-covered patients were more likely to have multiple visits in a 12-month period than privately insured and uninsured patients" (Brophy Marcus, 5/20).

The full study is available from the CDC.

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