Six of every 10 rural emergency departments visits made by poor patients

Research Activities, August 2011, No. 372

Low-income adults aged 18 to 64 accounted for 56 percent of the 8 million visits made to rural hospital emergency departments in 2008, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The Federal agency's analysis also found that:

  • About 44 percent of the adult visits to rural emergency departments were either paid for by Medicaid (28 percent) or were uncompensated or billed to uninsured patients (nearly 16.5 percent).
  • Only 31 percent of the visits were paid for by private health plans and 25 percent were covered by Medicare.
  • The top 10 reasons for rural emergency department visits included abdominal pain (233,064), back pain (223,248), chest pain from unknown cause (220,647), open wounds (211,587), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchiectasis (159,002) that can make breathing difficult.
  • Of the emergency departments in rural areas, only about 2 percent were trauma centers and less than 2 percent were located in teaching hospitals. Some 51 percent were located in designated critical access hospitals, which receive cost-based reimbursement for treating Medicare patients to help improve their financial performance and reduce the danger of hospital closure.

This AHRQ News and Numbers summary is based on data from Emergency Department Visits in Rural and Non-Rural Community Hospitals, 2008 (

The report uses data from the Agency's 2008 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) and data from supplemental sources from the U.S. Census Bureau. For information about NEDS, go to

For other information, or to speak with an AHRQ data expert, please contact Bob Isquith at or call (301) 427-1539.

Page last reviewed August 2011
Internet Citation: Six of every 10 rural emergency departments visits made by poor patients: Research Activities, August 2011, No. 372. August 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.