AHRQ Views

Blog posts from AHRQ leaders

The Affordable Care Act requires health plans that offer dependent coverage to allow young adults to stay on their parents' plan until age 26. Not only has this helped insure young adults, it is also associated with a reduction in overall emergency department visits by young adults age 19 to 25.

A new study, published today in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, shows that, following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the annual rate of emergency department visits by young adults age 19 to 25 decreased by 1.4 percent in 2011.

This represents 191,000 fewer emergency department visits among young people in this age group than would have occurred if the rate of emergency department use had not decreased. The data show decreases in weekday visits, non-urgent conditions, and conditions that could be treated in places other than the emergency department.

To put this in context, prior to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, young adults had the highest uninsured rate of any age group. While they are generally healthier than the overall population, they are also at elevated risk for a variety of health and safety issues, including sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and mental health challenges.

For this study, currently the most extensive analysis of its kind, researchers examined more than 17 million emergency department visits between 2007 and 2011 from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample database of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Hospital Cost and Utilization Project.

While emergency departments are appropriate for injuries and other true emergencies, their overuse for non-emergency conditions is an increasingly expensive problem. Many people use emergency departments because they do not have access to primary care, in some cases because they are uninsured.

Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the expansion of insurance options for young Americans—including being able to stay on their parents' plans until age 26—allows young adults to seek care in the most appropriate setting, reserving costly emergency department use for emergencies.

And as today's study shows, it's working.

Richard Kronick, Ph.D., is Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Page last reviewed March 2015
Page originally created March 2015
Internet Citation: Fewer Young Adults Rely on the Emergency Department for Routine Care. Content last reviewed March 2015. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/blog/ahrqviews/031115.html