Study: High Deductibles Cut Down on Emergency Room Visits

March 15, 2007

High-deductible health plans with low monthly premiums, like those recently proposed by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to cover the state’s uninsured, cut down on emergency room visits, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Harvard Medical School and Harvard-Pilgrim Health Care, found that patients with high deductibles sought emergency room treatment 10 percent less than patients with traditional plans.

Many high-deductible patients stayed home instead of seeking treatment for less severe conditions like colds, nausea and headaches, the study found. Researchers followed patients with high deductible plans for one year after they switched from traditional plans with lower deductibles, but higher monthly premiums.

“Our study showed that for most members, the high-deductible plan seemed to work as intended,” said Dr. Frank Wharam, the study’s lead author. “Patients went to the emergency room less frequently for non-emergency conditions.”

The researchers said more studies are needed to ensure that high-deductible patients are not neglecting medical emergencies because of the high cost of hospital visits.


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