The uninsured are overusing emergency rooms — and other health-care myths

In the search for ways to bring down American health-care spending, there are certain ideas that are close to dogma. Chief among them: If you provide health insurance to people, they will stop overusing the emergency room.

“A lot of people just didn’t bother getting health insurance at all. And when they got sick, they’d have to go to the emergency room,” President Obama said in a 2016 speech. “But the emergency room is the most expensive place to get care. And because you weren’t insured, the hospital would have to give you the care free, and they would have to then make up for those costs by charging everybody else more money.”

The idea that uninsured people are clogging emergency rooms looks more and more like a myth, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs. Uninsured adults used the emergency room at very similar rates to people with insurance — and much less than people on Medicaid. Providing insurance to people can have many benefits, but driving down emergency room utilization doesn’t appear to be one of them.


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