Survey shows drop in Arkansas uninsured ER visits

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Many Arkansas hospitals have seen a significant drop in the number of uninsured patients in the emergency room after the implementation of Arkansas’ private option Medicaid expansion, according to a preliminary survey presented to lawmakers.

Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson on Thursday presented results of a preliminary survey of 42 hospitals that tracked emergency-room visits and the number of uninsured patients for the first three months of the year, as compared with the same time period in 2013. The report was presented to an Arkansas Legislative Council subcommittee.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday (http://bit.ly/1lHxGwX ) that the survey found emergency-room visits are down by 2 percent, while the number of uninsured patients in those emergency rooms dropped by 24 percent. About 160,000 applicants have been approved for health coverage through the private option, which uses Medicaid funds to buy private insurance for low-income residents, Thompson said Thursday.

“We’re removing a financial barrier for individuals who have needed care and needed service use, so they are not waiting later to have more complicated, less effective, more costly outcomes,” Thompson said.

The White County Medical Center in Searcy has seen an even sharper drop in uninsured ER patients, chief executive officer Ray Montgomery told lawmakers.

“With the private option, we have literally seen a 50 percent reduction in uninsured patients coming through our emergency room … and we have 50,000 visits each year,” he said, comparing the first four months of 2013 with the first four months of this year.

But some lawmakers questioned whether the survey results were rushed, noting that only 42 of the state’s 83 acute-care hospitals provided data.

“I’m very hesitant and concerned that we are reporting this information when not even half of the hospitals are reporting,” said Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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