Lisa M. Lines, PhD, MPH
University ofMassachusetts Medical School
RTI International,Waltham, MA
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: The problem of potentially avoidable emergency department (ED) visits has been linked to barriers in access to high-quality, timely primary care. In Massachusetts ,about half of all ED visits were considered potentially avoidable, or primary-care sensitive (PCS), in the mid-2000s. Indeed, improving access to primary care was a prime motive for the state’s – and the nation’s – first universal coverage health insurance program in 2006. Now, the state has the highest coverage rate in the country.
We used Massachusetts All-Payer Claims Data to study characteristics of insured Massachusetts residents associated with primary-care sensitive ED use and compared such use among people under age 65 with public (Medicaid[MassHealth]) versus private insurance. We studied more than 2.2 million individuals in 2011-12; about 40% had public insurance in 2011, and the rest had private insurance. Our PCS ED measure included nonurgent, urgent but primary care treatable, and urgent but potentially avoidable ED visits.
We found that primary-care sensitive ED use was more than 4 times higher among the publicly insured (public insurees: 36.5 PCS ED visits per 100 person-years; private insurees: 9.0). After adjusting for a range of potential confounders, such as the vastly different morbidity burden of the two groups, public insurance in2011 was associated with about 150% more primary-care sensitive ED use. We also found that 70% of people with public insurance had at least 1 primary care visit, compared with 80% of those with private insurance. The public group also had fewer visits to their PCP of record, even though nearly all of them had an officially designated PCP.