Background: A high volume of emergency department (ED) visits in the rural United States may be the result of barriers to accessing primary care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) increased the number of insured, which may improve patient access to primary care and therefore reduce ED utilization. The objective of this study is to estimate the trends and cost of ED utilization pre-ACA and post-ACA implementation in a rural United States.
Data and methods: We use 2009-2013 ED utilization data from a rural Georgia hospital to estimate trends and costs by demographic characteristics, referring source, and payor information. T tests and log-linear regression models are used to assess the sociodemographic factors impacting ED inflation-adjusted costs before (2009-2010) and after ACA (2011-2013) implementation.
Results: During 2009-2013, 39,970 ED encounters were recorded with an average cost (AC) of $2002 per visit. Results indicate that during pre-ACA, on average, 8702 encounters were recorded per year with an AC of $1759. During post-ACA, there were 7521 annual visits, with an annual AC of $2241. Regression model results indicate that AC were significantly higher for men, older adults, nonblack patients, those with private insurance, and during the post-ACA period.
Conclusions: Results suggest that post-ACA, declining ED visits may be due to more patients with insurance accessing primary care instead of ED. We further hypothesize that increased AC during this period may be due to ED visits being of an emergent nature, which require more resources to treat. Further comprehensive investigation is warranted to study the impact of ACA on ED utilization for nonemergency purposes among rural and nonrural hospitals.