Obamacare-Fueled Medicaid Expansion Leads to Surge in ER Visits

Many people newly insured by Medicaid under the federal health care law are seeking treatment in hospital emergency rooms, one of the most expensive medical settings, a study released Monday concludes.

The analysis by the Colorado Hospital Association provides a real-time glimpse at how the nation’s newest social program is working.

It also found indications that newly insured Medicaid patients admitted to hospitals may be sicker than patients previously covered under the same program, which serves more than 60 million low-income and disabled people.

The findings have implications for federal and state policymakers managing the coverage expansion under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Taxpayers could save millions of dollars if newly insured Medicaid patients with routine needs are steered to community health centers or urgent care clinics, as opposed to service-intensive ERs.

The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid to cover many low-income adults with no children living at home. They were previously ineligible in nearly every state. About 7 million people nationally have been added to the rolls of the safety-net program, which is jointly run by the federal government and the states.

More than half the states have signed up for the Medicaid expansion, with Washington paying the entire cost through 2016, and gradually phasing down to a 90-percent share thereafter. Another part of the law, which is available in every state, offers subsidized private health insurance to people who don’t have a health plan on the job.