A new study in Science finds that expanding Medicaid increases emergency room visits, undercutting previous claims from lawmakers and policy wonks that expanding Medicaid would decrease ER use. these findings shouldn’t be a complete surprise to those who are familiar with the program and the people it serves. Many of those who are newly eligible for Medicaid likely have medical conditions that have gone unadressed for long periods of time. They also didn’t have an existing relationship with a physician, which probably explains why they turn to the ER as soon as they have coverage.
These findings shouldn’t be interpreted as a reason to not expand Medicaid. Access to Medicaid results in better mental health and increased financial stability, which are no small things. But as health economist Jonathan Gruber notes, making people healthy shouldn’t be framed as a cost-saver. States should expand Medicaid because it’s the right thing to do. And perhaps state Medicaid programs can do a better job of connecting new enrollees with primary care physicians.