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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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David Goldman / AP

A new study from researchers at the University of California at San Francisco has found that only a tiny fraction (3.3%) of emergency room visits are considered "avoidable" — meaning people went home and didn't need any procedures, tests or medications. The results were based on seven years of federal ER visit data.

Why it matters: Some states and health insurers are charging people higher out-of-pocket costs or refusing to pay claims if they determine after the fact that an ER visit was unnecessary. The goal is to save money and route people to lower-cost settings like urgent care centers. But the study suggests that most ER visits are valid, and that retrospectively penalizing patients could complicate the issue.

The details: ER doctors conducted this study and others. But they focused on objective insurance claims and federal data, giving credence to the methodology. Toothaches, back pain and headaches were the most common forms of preventable ER visits. But there's more to the study:

  • The definition of "avoidable" is what splits most parties. And determining a visit is avoidable after it happens may ignore symptoms that appear to be urgent at the time.
  • It's difficult for an average person to know what an emergency is. And if it's after hours, most things seem like an emergency.
  • Investing more in preventive measures like dental or mental health (or dealing with exorbitant provider prices) could alleviate many concerns.

Outside voice: "Sore throats and runny noses are not bogging down our system," said Laura Burke, an emergency room physician and researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who was not involved in the latest study. She works at several emergency sites and believes few visits are truly preventable. But she said she also tries to understand why someone would come to the ER if the problem doesn't seem urgent.

"Usually it's a reason that makes sense," Burke said. "Maybe they work two jobs, and 2 a.m. was the only time they could come."

Go deeper

NRA files for bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for voluntary bankruptcy as part of a restructuring plan.

Driving the news: The gun rights group said it would reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment." Last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

47 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.

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