Surprise, surprise! What we thought we knew about ER overuse is not correct, according to a newly released study by the Center for Studying Health System Change:
Hospital Emergency Department Use Varies Greatly Across the United States
Contrary to Conventional Wisdom, Communities with More Uninsured, Hispanic or Immigrant Residents Generally Have Lower Levels of Emergency Department Use
July 18, 2006
FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT: Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, DC—Contrary to popular belief, communities with high levels of uninsured, Hispanic or immigrant residents generally have much lower rates of per person hospital emergency department (ED) use than other communities, according to a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) published today as a Web Exclusive in the journal Health Affairs....
...Despite common perceptions that high rates of uninsured and immigrant residents contribute to higher ED use, communities with the highest levels of ED use generally did not have the highest numbers of uninsured, low-income, racial/ethnic minorities or immigrant residents....
...while a rapid influx of immigrants may contribute to ED crowding in some individual hospitals—particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border—immigration is not a major contributing factor to ED crowding nationally, even in many communities that have a large population of Hispanic immigrants.
"Hispanic immigrants—a high proportion of whom are uninsured—are not heavy users of EDs compared to other individuals, including whites with private insurance," Cunningham said. "And their numbers are still too small in the vast majority of communities nationwide to have a major impact on the health care system in those communities."
For example, noncitizens in 2003 on average had about 17 fewer ED visits per 100 people than citizens, while uninsured people had 16 fewer visits on average than Medicaid patients, about 20 fewer visits than Medicare beneficiaries and roughly the same rates as privately insured people....
Read the full news release at the web site linked above.
I always suspected it wasn't as simple as everyone made it seem to be. Things generally are more complex than they appear to be on the surface; a good reminder about knee-jerk reactions to perceived problems, probably.