NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 15, 2007

Patients who switched to high-deductible health plans went to the emergency department 10 percent less than patients who remained in traditional plans, according to a new study by the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The study, published in the March 14 Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that most of this reduction was for less severe conditions like colds, nausea and headaches.  Overall, the authors found:

  • There was a slight decline in first-time emergency visits for members in high deductible plans and a 25 percent reduction in repeat visits, mostly for non-severe conditions.
  • This suggests that when members realize their responsibility for out-of-pocket expenses, they reduce future emergency department visits for less urgent conditions.
  • Patients in the high-deductible plans were also hospitalized less as a result of both reduced emergency visits and fewer admissions once reaching the emergency department.

"Our study showed that for most members, the high-deductible plan seemed to work as intended," said Frank Wharam, MD, MPH, research fellow in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention and the study's lead author.  "Patients went to the emergency room less frequently for non-emergency conditions."

Source: "High Deductible Health Plans Linked To Fewer Emergency Room Visits," Medical News Today, March 14, 2007.

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