HSC Researcher Testifies at Senate Hearing on Emergency Department Use

Uninsured Play Relatively Minor Role in Increased Use of Emergency Departments

News Release
May 11, 2011

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or acassil@hschange.org

WASHINGTON, DC—While there is a common perception that emergency department crowding is driven primarily by uninsured people, most of the growth in emergency department volume between 1995 and 2008 was driven by insured people, Peter Cunningham, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC), told Congress today.

Americans made a total of 124 million visits to hospital EDs in 2008, the latest year for which data are available from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey—the most authoritative and cited source of information on emergency department utilization, Cunningham testified at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging on “Diverting Non-urgent Emergency Room Use: Can It Provide Better Care and Lower Costs?”

“Only 8 percent of visits—a total of 9.9 million—were classified as nonurgent. Trends in the relative number of nonurgent visits have actually decreased slightly since 2000, when 10.7 percent of visits were classified as nonurgent. In sum, most visits to hospital emergency departments are neither true emergencies requiring that patients be seen almost immediately nor are they clearly nonurgent problems that could be addressed in other primary care settings,” Cunningham testified.

In his testimony, Cunningham made the following points:

Cunningham’s testimony is available online at www.hschange.org/CONTENT/2104/.

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research.