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Access to Federally Qualified Health Centers and Emergency Department Use Among Uninsured and Medicaid‐insured Adults: California, 2005 to 2013



While improved access to safety net primary care providers, like federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), is often cited as a route to alleviate potentially preventable emergency department (ED) visits, no studies have longitudinally established the impact of improving access to FQHCs on ED use among Medicaid-insured and uninsured adults. We aimed to determine whether improved access to FQHCs was associated with lower ED use by uninsured and Medicaid-insured adults.


Using data from the Uniform Data System, U.S. Census Bureau, and California Office of Statewide Health Planning & Development, we conducted a longitudinal analysis of 58 California counties from 2005 to 2013. For each county-year observation, we employed three measures of FQHC access: geographic density of FQHCs (delivery sites per 100 square miles), FQHCs per county resident (delivery sites per 100,000 county residents), and the proportion of Medicaid-insured or uninsured residents ages 19 to 64 years that utilized FQHCs. We then used a fixed-effects model to examine the impact of changes in the measures of FQHC access on ED visit rates by Medicaid-insured or uninsured adults in each county.


Increasing geographic density of FQHCs was associated with a 26% to 35% decrease in ED use by uninsured but not Medicaid-insured patients. Increasing numbers of clinics per county resident and higher percentages of Medicaid-insured and uninsured adults seen at FQHCs were not associated with reduced rates of ED use among either uninsured or Medicaid-insured adults.


We were unable to detect a consistent association between our measures of FQHC access and ED use by Medicaid-insured and uninsured nonelderly California adults, underscoring the importance of investigating additional drivers to reduce ED use among these vulnerable patient populations.

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