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Study: Expanding Medicaid does not reduce ER trips, it increases them

oregonWould expanding medical welfare reduce visits to the emergency room? A new study from Oregon says, No.

The study, released on Thursday by the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, found that Oregon’s 2008 expansion of Medicaid actually increased visits to the emergency room.

Proponents of expanding Medicaid in Maine – a key feature of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare – have said numerous times in the past year that one of the best reasons to expand Medicaid is reducing ER visits.

The OHIE study throws a monkey wrench in that line of argument.

The OHIE is a randomized study of the effect of expanding public health insurance. “It represents the first use of a randomized controlled design to evaluate the impact of Medicaid in the United States,” according to OHIE’s website.

OHIE’s latest findings suggest that expanding Medicaid coverage will actually increase the number of ER visits. In the sample used, the increase of an 18-month period was about 40 percent — an sharp rise that could certainly strain hospitals’ resources.

The study also found an increase in ER visits classified as “non-emergent,” “primary care treatable,” and “emergent, preventable.” That means a significant number of new Medicaid-funded ER visits were not actually for emergencies.

Maine Democrats have relied strongly on the argument that expanding Medicaid in Maine will do the opposite of what it has done in Oregon. But Republican leaders are now asking their Democratic colleagues to stick to the facts when considering whether to expand eligibility for the medical welfare program.

[RELATED: Misleading Arguments for Medicaid Expansion...]

“We must have an honest and fair debate about ObamaCare’s welfare expansion, and we cannot do that if Democrats continue to repeat things that we know are untrue in order to create political hype,” said House Majority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport).

“Let’s look at the facts, which say that welfare expansion under Obamacare is far more costly and far less beneficial than the president and Maine Democrats are making it out to be,” he said.

This is not the first time Democrats’ claims about Medicaid expansion have strayed from the facts. Party leaders have frequently said that expanding Medicaid will reduce the number of people without insurance and will reduce levels of charity care. Both of these claims are undermine by Maine’s own experience with previous expansions of Medicaid.

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