Effect of the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion on Emergency Department Visits: Evidence From State-Level Emergency Department Databases

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Abstract

Study objective

We assess whether the expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) results in changes in emergency department (ED) visits or ED payer mix. We also test whether the size of the change in ED visits depends on the change in the size of the Medicaid population.

Methods

Using all-capture, longitudinal, state data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Fast Stats program, we implemented a difference-in-difference analysis, which compared changes in ED visits per capita and the share of ED visits by payer (Medicaid, uninsured, and private insurance) in 14 states that did and 11 states that did not expand Medicaid in 2014. Analyses controlled for state-level demographic and economic characteristics.

Results

We found that total ED use per 1,000 population increased by 2.5 visits more in Medicaid expansion states than in nonexpansion states after 2014 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1 to 3.9). Among the visit types that could be measured, increases in ED visits were largest for injury-related visits and for states with the largest changes in Medicaid enrollment. Compared with nonexpansion states, in expansion states the share of ED visits covered by Medicaid increased 8.8 percentage points (95% CI 5.0 to 12.6), whereas the uninsured share decreased by 5.3 percentage points (95% CI –1.7 to –8.9).

Conclusion

The ACA’s Medicaid expansion has resulted in changes in payer mix. Contrary to other studies of the ACA’s effect on ED visits, our study found that the expansion also increased use of the ED, consistent with polls of emergency physicians.

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