AHRQ: 40% of emergency department visits billed to public insurance

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More than 40 percent of the 120 million visits that Americans made to hospital emergency departments in 2006 were billed to public insurance, according to the latest statistics from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

According to the analysis by the federal agency, approximately 50 million emergency department visits were billed to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The uninsured accounted for another 18 percent of visits for emergency care, while 34 percent of the visits were billed to private insurance companies and the rest were billed to workers compensation, military health plan administrator, Tricare, and other payors.

AHRQ's study of hospital emergency department use in 2006 also found that:

  • About 38 percent of the 24.2 million visits billed to Medicare ended with the patients being admitted, compared with 11 percent of the 41.5 million visits billed to private insurers, 9.5 percent of the 26 million visits billed to Medicaid and 7 percent of the 21.2 million visits by the uninsured.
  • The uninsured were the most frequent users of hospital emergency departments. The rate was 1.2 times greater than that of people with public or private insurance--452 visits per 1,000 population versus 367 visits per 1,000 population, respectively.
  • The uninsured were also the most likely to be treated and released -- a possible indication of their use of hospital emergency departments as their usual source of care. Their "treat-and-release" rate was 421 visits per 1,000 population versus 301 per 1,000 population for the insured.

AHRQ News and Numbers uses statistics from the 2006 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, a new government database that is nationally representative of emergency department visits in all non-federal hospitals. The Nationwide Emergency Department Sample contains 26 million records from emergency department visits from approximately 1,000 community hospitals nationwide. This represents 20 percent of all U.S. hospital emergency departments.