Emergency department use slowed for young adults up to age 26 once they were allowed to stay on their parents’ health plans under the Affordable Care Act, according to new research.

A new study from Stanford University researchers published Monday in the September issue of the journal Health Affairs showed young adults ages 19 to 25 had a decrease of 2.7 emergency department (ED) visits per 1,000 people compared to an older group in the same period. Researchers looked at state hospital records from California, New York and Florida from 2009-2011 for their analysis.

Coverage of young adults was one of the earliest benefits of the health law, allowing people under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ health care plan. Before the law extended health coverage to young adult in the fall of 2010, about one in four people ages 18 to 34 were uninsured in 2009, the study shows.

“Following implementation of the ACA provision, the younger group had a decrease of 2.7 ED visits per 1,000 people compared to the older group – a relative change of -2.1 percent,” researchers from Stanford wrote. “The largest relative decreases were found in women (3 percent) and blacks (3.4 percent). This relative decrease in ED uses implies the total reduction of more than 60,000 visits from young adults ages 19-25 across the three states in 2011.”

It’s an important finding since emergency department (ED) visits have “risen steadily for more than a decade,” researchers said. In addition, ED visits are often cited as an example of contributing to health costs when people without insurance seek treatment at the hospital rather than go to a doctor’s office, retail clinic or urgent care center.

“Our results suggest that the ACA’s dependent coverage provision is associated with a relative decrease in the number of E.D. (emergency department) visits for young adults, but a minimal relative decrease in the rate at which they ever used the ED,” Stanford researchers wrote. “Further expansions of coverage under the ACA could facilitate expanded ED use by reducing economic barriers to using the ED among newly insured populations. Such expansions could also facilitate these populations’ use of better non-ED care, which would tend to reduce the demand for ED care.”

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary