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High deductibles may drive more patients to emergency rooms

High deductibles may drive more patients to emergency rooms

Rising health care plan deductibles and other plan cost-sharing requirements may be leading to more emergency room treatments, according to a physician survey.

A whopping 83% of doctors responding to a survey released Tuesday by the American College of Emergency Physicians said they are treating patients who have forgone or delayed medical care because of high out-of-pocket expenses.

“Patients should not be punished financially for having emergencies or discouraged from seeking medical attention when they are sick or injured. No plan is affordable if it abandons you when you need it most,” Dr. Jay Kaplan, president of the Washington-based ACEP, said in a statement.

A significant majority — 62% — of respondents believe that most health insurers provide less-than-adequate coverage for emergency room treatments, while 18% said the coverage was adequate and 19% didn't know.

In recent years, to control rising costs, employers have boosted group health plan cost-sharing requirements to try to keep plan premiums more under control, numerous surveys have found.

For example, among large employers — those with at least 500 employees — enrollment in consumer-driven health plans, which typically are high-deductible plans linked to health savings accounts, nearly doubled in the past three years to 28% from 15% of covered employees, according to a Mercer L.L.C. survey released last year.

At the same time, though, the Mercer survey found that employers are stepping up the availability of lower-cost treatments options, like telemedicine programs, in which employees can dial a toll-free number to speak to a physician, potentially cutting down on trips to emergency rooms, such as on weekends when most doctors' offices are closed.

The ACEP survey, conducted in mid-April is based on 1,924 responses from members of the association.