High-cost sharing policies and non-urgent emergency department visits

School of Public Health

Dr. Haichang Xin, a Scientist in the Department of Health Care Organization & Policy in UAB’s School of Public Health set out to examine whether high-cost-sharing ambulatory care policies affect non-urgent emergency department (ED) care utilization differently among individuals with and without chronic conditions.

This retrospective cohort study used 2010–2011 US Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data. Difference-in-difference methods, multivariate logit model and survey procedures were employed. Time lag effect was used to address endogeneity concerns.

The sample included 4,347 individuals. Difference in non-urgent ED visits log odds between high- and low-cost-sharing policies was not significantly different between chronically ill and non-chronically ill individuals (β=−0.48, p=0.42). Sensitivity analysis with 15 and 25 percent cost-sharing levels also generated consistent insignificant results (p=0.33 and p=0.31, respectively). Ambulatory care incidence rates were not significantly different between high- and low-cost-sharing groups among chronically ill people (incidence rate ratio=0.849, p=0.069).

High-cost-sharing ambulatory care policies were not associated with increased non-urgent ED care utilization among chronically ill and healthy people. The chronically ill patients may have retained sizable ambulatory care that was necessary to maintain their health. Health plans or employers may consider low-level cost-sharing policies for ambulatory care among chronically ill enrollees or employees.

Findings contribute to insurance benefit design; i.e., whether high-cost-sharing ambulatory care policies should be implemented among chronically ill enrollees to maintain their health and save costs for health plans.

Full article.