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Medicaid Patients Behind Jump in California ER Visits, Study Finds

TUESDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Difficulty finding primary care may explain a large rise in emergency department visits by adults in California with Medicaid coverage, according to researchers.

Emergency department visits made by adults aged 19 to 64 increased 13 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to their analysis. In terms of numbers, actual visits climbed from 5.4 million per year to 6.1 million per year over the time period.

The largest increase in visits occurred in 2009, likely because of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic and the effects of the economic downturn, the authors suggested in a research letter published in the Sept. 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The proportion of visits made by adults with Medicaid coverage and those without insurance increased, and was highest among those with Medicaid. Rates of visits by adults with private insurance fell during the study period, the researchers found.

"Emergency department use has been affected by insurance patterns over time and will likely be further affected by expansions of coverage from health care reform," wrote Dr. Renee Hsia, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.

Uninsured patients are widely believed to be frequent, and often inappropriate, users of emergency departments. But insured patients, particularly those with publicly funded Medicaid coverage, may have trouble getting primary care and may rely on emergency departments more frequently than uninsured patients, the researchers suggested in a journal news release.

More information

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration offers advice about finding affordable health care.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, Sept. 17, 2013