Higher ED Visits Follow Healthcare Reform in Massachusetts

Beginning in 2006, Massachusetts implemented a healthcare reform policy similar to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Now, a new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found emergency department use steadily increased in the years following the reform implementation.

Researchers analyzed 13.3 million ED visits from 2004 to 2009. They found ED visits increased between 0.2 percent and 1.2 percent during reform implementation and between 0.2 percent and 2.2 percent after reform implementation, in comparison to pre-reform era.

"Whether this was due to the elimination of financial barriers to seeking care in the ED, a persistent shortage in access to primary care for those with insurance, or some other cause is not entirely clear and will need to be addressed in future research," researchers wrote in the study.

Paul Levy, former president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, commented on the study on his blog "Running A Hospital," bringing together voices discussing the finding.

He mentions a column by Rhode Island NPR asking if these results indicate that healthcare reform is not "moving the needle on something we thought it would," regarding reduced ED utilization.

Mr. Levy responds by suggesting maybe the PPACA had a much simpler purpose.

"Many of us projected that the ACA was not likely to lead to bending the curve of health care costs," he wrote. "Its main purpose was to provide health insurance. That's good and important, in and of itself."

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