Care-Seeking Behavior in Response to Emergency Department Copayments

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Patients are increasingly paying for more of their medical care through cost-sharing, yet little is known about how patients change the ways that they seek care in response.


We sought to assess how patients change their care-seeking behavior in response to emergency department (ED) copayments.

Research Design:

Telephone interviews with a stratified random sample of adult members of a large integrated delivery system.


There were 932 respondents (72% response rate).


We examined participants’ knowledge of their copayment level for ED services, and measures of how the cost-sharing affected their decisions about where or when to seek care.


Overall, 82% of participants faced a copayment for ED services (ranging between $5 and $100), and 41% correctly reported the amount of this copayment. In response to the perceived copayment amount, 19% reported changing their care-seeking behavior within the previous 12 months: 12% sought care from an alternate delivery site, 12% contacted a provider by telephone or the Internet, 9% delayed going to the ED, and 2% avoided medical care altogether. In multivariate models, the ED cost-sharing amount was significantly associated with reporting changes in care-seeking behavior.


When faced with an ED copayment, patients in the health system most commonly shifted toward seeking care from other available alternatives, and rarely avoid medical care altogether.

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