Low-income adults ages 18 to 64 accounted for 56% 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.

Among the top 10 reasons for such visits were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchiectasis.

According to the agency’s analysis, about 44% of the adult visits to rural emergency departments were either paid for by Medicaid (28%) or were uncompensated or billed to uninsured patients (nearly 16.5%). Only 31% of the visits were paid for by private health plans and 25% were covered by Medicare.

Of the emergency departments in rural areas, only about 2% were trauma centers and less than 2% were located in teaching hospitals. Some 51% 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.

Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.