Variation in outpatient emergency department utilization in Texas Medicaid_ a state-level framework for finding “superutilizers”

Chris Delcher, Chengliang Yang, Sanjay Ranka, Joseph Adrian Tyndall, Bruce Vogel, Elizabeth Shenkman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Very frequent outpatient emergency department (ED) use—so called “superutilization”—at the state level is not well-studied. To address this gap, we examined frequent ED utilization in the largest state Medicaid population to date. Methods: Using Texas Medicaid (the third largest in the USA) claims data, we examined the variability in expenditures, sociodemographics, comorbidities, and persistence across seven levels of ED utilization/year (i.e., 1, 2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–9, 10–14, and ≥ 15 visits). We classified visits into emergent and non-emergent categories using the most recent New York University algorithm. Results: Thirty-one percent (n = 346,651) of Texas Medicaid adult enrollees visited the ED at least once in 2014. Enrollees with ≥ 3 ED visits accounted for 8.5% of all adult patients, 60.4% of the total ED visits, and 62.1% of the total ED expenditures. Extremely frequent ED users (≥ 10 ED visits) represented < 1% of all users but accounted for 15.5% of all ED visits and 17.4% of the total ED costs. The proportions of ED visits classified as non-emergent or emergent, but primary care treatable varied little as ED visits increased. Overall, approximately 13% of ED visits were considered not preventable or avoidable. Conclusions: The Texas Medicaid population has a substantial burden of chronic disease with only modest increases in substance use and mental health diagnoses as annual visits increase. Understanding the characteristics that lead to frequent ED use is vital to developing strategies and Medicaid policy to reduce high utilization.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
JournalInternational Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the State of Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The Institute for Child Health Policy, University of Florida, is the external quality review organization for Texas Medicaid Managed Care and CHIP. The authors will not share the Texas Medicaid administrative data used to conduct this study. These data are available to the authors under contracts with the State of Texas. Permission to access the data is required from the State of Texas.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, The Author(s).


  • Emergency department
  • Frequent users
  • Medicaid
  • Superutilizers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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