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Medicare could save $560 million or more a year simply by allowing some patients who call 911 for an ambulance to be taken somewhere other than a hospital emergency room.
What's more, the study found, private insurers could save twice that amount by following suit.
That's the conclusion of a new study in Health Affairs, which found that more than a third of Medicare patients who called 911 had a "low-acuity diagnosis" that could have been managed outside the hospital emergency department, in a less-expensive setting such as a doctor's office or urgent-care center.
"This is one of these insightful ideas that adds to the options Medicare has for improving quality and efficiency," says Keith Lind, a senior policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute.
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Gregg Margolis, the director of health care systems and health policy at the Department of Health and Human Services, directed the study. He and his colleagues say that more research is needed.
While Lind says the idea may not yet be "ready for prime time," he points out that it could "help Medicare beneficiaries to get more appropriate care and help keep down Medicare-beneficiary costs."
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