Emergency department use across 88 small areas after affordable care act implementation in Illinois

Joe Feinglass*, Andrew J. Cooper, Kelsey Rydland, Emilie S. Powell, Megan McHugh, Raymond Kang, Scott M. Dresden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Introduction: This study analyzes changes in hospital emergency department (ED) visit rates before and after the 2014 Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance expansions in Illinois. We compare the association between population insurance status change and ED visit rate change between a 24-month (2012-2013) pre-ACA period and a 24-month post-ACA (2014-2015) period across 88 socioeconomically diverse areas of Illinois. Methods: We used annual American Community Survey estimates for 2012-2015 to obtain insurance status changes for uninsured, private, Medicaid, and Medicare (disability) populations of 88 Illinois Public Use Micro Areas (PUMAs), areas with a mean of about 90,000 age 18-64 residents. Over 12 million ED visits to 201 non-federal Illinois hospitals were used to calculate visit rates by residents of each PUMA, using population-based mapping weights to allocate visits from zip codes to PUMAs. We then estimated n=88 correlations between population insurance-status changes and changes in ED visit rates per 1,000 residents comparing the two years before and after ACA implementation. Results: The baseline PUMA uninsurance rate ranged from 6.7% to 41.1% and there was 4.6- fold variation in baseline PUMA ED visit rates. The top quartile of PUMAs had >21,000 reductions in uninsured residents; 16 PUMAs had at least a 15,000 person increase in Medicaid enrollment. Compared to 2012-2013, 2014-2015 average monthly ED visits by the uninsured dropped 42%, but increased 42% for Medicaid and 10% for the privately insured. Areas with the largest increases in Medicaid enrollment experienced the largest growth in ED use; change in Medicaid enrollment was the only significant correlate of area change in total ED visits and explained a third of variation across the 88 PUMAs. Conclusion: ACA implementation in Illinois accelerated existing trends towards greater use of hospital ED care. It remains to be seen whether providing better access to primary and preventive care to the formerly uninsured will reduce ED use over time, or whether ACA insurance expansion is a part of continued, long-term growth. Monitoring ED use at the local level is critical to the success of new home- and community-based care coordination initiatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)811-820
Number of pages10
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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