The Corner

To Expand Medicaid Is to Expand ER Usage

For all Obamacare’s troubles, at least Americans can rest assured that the reforms are going to ease the pressure on emergency rooms. Right?

Well, not according to a study published in Science, no. From the abstract:

In 2008, Oregon initiated a limited expansion of a Medicaid program for uninsured, low-income adults, drawing names from a waiting list by lottery. This lottery created a rare opportunity to study the effects of Medicaid coverage using a randomized controlled design. Using the randomization provided by the lottery and emergency-department records from Portland-area hospitals, we study the emergency-department use of about 25,000 lottery participants over approximately 18 months after the lottery. We find that Medicaid coverage significantly increases overall emergency use by 0.41 visits per person, or 40 percent relative to an average of 1.02 visits per person in the control group. We find increases in emergency-department visits across a broad range of types of visits, conditions, and subgroups, including increases in visits for conditions that may be most readily treatable in primary care settings.

Okay, so it doesn’t reduce the use of ERs. But at least pushing huge numbers of Americans onto Medicaid will improve their health-care outcomes. Right? Again: No, not really.