September 22, 2023

Assistance program leads to major drop in ER visits, costs for immigrants

By: Brita Belli

Editor's Note

A study from economists and public health officials in the September 2023 issue of the journal American Economic Review: Insights found that when undocumented immigrants were provided assistance to visit primary care doctors via a pilot program, it resulted in a 21% drop in emergency room (ER) use.

Highlights of the study include:

  • The study featured more than 2,400 participants in New York City, with 1,286 in a treatment group receiving help in setting up a primary care appointment and 1,142 who did not receive the same help. 
  • The program reached people through partnerships with community-based groups, mailings, social media posts, and TV and print media ads.
  • In the first 3 months, 57% of people in the treatment group visited a primary care physician, compared to 16% of people in the control group. 
  • Those in the treatment group saw a savings of just over $195 in ER-visit costs, over $477 for the higher-risk patients. 
  • Overall, there was a 33.8 percentage point increase in diabetes screenings and a 45.4 percentage point increase in blood pressure screenings for those in the treatment group.

 As the program did not offer insurance, only assistance and encouragement, researchers say it demonstrated that nonfinancial barriers were a major hurdle preventing immigrants from seeking treatment from primary care physicians in lieu of ER services. 


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