Emergency care can help patients get health insurance and unclaimed benefits for food, rent

Penn Medicine faculty and LDI fellows are working to design the kind of interventions that will connect patients with eligible care coverage.

Every year, at least $60 billion in public benefits goes unused nationally. That means tax relief, health insurance, and help with food, housing, and transportation never reach people they are intended for.

Public benefits are associated with better health, lower costs, and community growth, so hospitals want to connect patients with them.

A medical professional and a patient in a waiting room filling out a form.
Image: iStock/Dragos Condrea

Two studies by Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI) fellows looked to emergency departments (EDs) to find people who were eligible for public benefits. By law, hospitals must provide emergency services, regardless of patients’ health insurance status. This makes EDs an opportune place to find people who qualify for programs such as Medicaid but are not enrolled.

“Our pilot study of about 200 adult Philadelphia residents found that it’s OK to ask people about public benefits while they wait in the ED with non-life-threatening issues,” says LDI senior fellow and professor of emergency medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine Austin Kilaru . “ED visits are an opportunity to engage people in longer-term care—both medical and nonmedical—to address drivers of acute illness that brought them to the ED in the first place.”

“A common misperception is that people use the ED only if they don’t have insurance. In fact, many people have insurance but may not fully engage with primary and preventive care,” he says. “We can help people make the connections necessary to improve their physical—and potentially financial—health. These types of interventions seek to increase the value of ED visits and help people where they are.”

LDI senior fellow and surgery professor at the Perelman School of Medicine Elinore Kaufman adds, “we’re studying if people who get insured through the Penn Medicine ED linkage program get care from other regional systems. That’s another opportunity to build partnerships.”

This story is by Chris Tachibana. Read more at Penn LDI.