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CDC: Many Children With Medicaid Using ER As Doctor's Office

Lead author expects the Affordable Care Act to ease the situation

THURSDAY, July 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children covered by Medicaid visit the emergency room for medical care far more often than uninsured or privately insured youngsters, and children with Medicaid are more likely than those with private insurance to visit for a reason other than a serious medical problem, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2012, regardless of insurance, three-quarters of children's emergency department visits occurred at night or on weekends when doctors' offices were closed, according to a July data brief published by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). About one-quarter of children with Medicaid went to an emergency room at least once that year, more than uninsured children (16 percent) or children with private insurance (13 percent). These differences held whether the patients went just once or two times or more.

True emergencies led similar proportions of Medicaid and uninsured patients to visit the emergency department -- 61 and 59 percent, respectively. A greater number of children with private insurance -- more than two-thirds -- had a serious condition steer them to the emergency room. In all, only about 10 percent of children at the emergency department for serious conditions were taken by ambulance.

Renee Gindi, Ph.D., a survey statistician at the CDC's NCHS and lead author of the report, told HealthDay that she expects the Affordable Care Act will ease the situation. "These changes in children's health insurance coverage will lead to more preventive care, having a usual source of care -- a medical home -- and that would alleviate this emergency room use," Gindi said. Because the report is based on data from 2012, the full effect of the Affordable Care Act isn't reflected, she added.

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