Does emergency care account for just 2 percent of health care spending?

How much of health care spending goes to emergency room care?
How much of health care spending goes to emergency room care?

It’s been widely accepted by many supporters of health care reform that too much of the health care dollar goes to emergency rooms, which usually cost more than other medical providers do.

But on a recent edition of CNN’s Crossfire, Nick Gillespie, the editor of, a libertarian publication, said emergency room costs actually represent a tiny share of health care spending -- just 2 percent. Really?

It turns out that calculations using the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a study undertaken by a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, come up with almost precisely that 2 percent figure.

We found another study that used different data and an alternative accounting method and came up with an estimate of 4.9 percent to 10 percent.

Experts told us the 2 percent figure comes from a credible calculation, and even if that figure is too low, the alternatives put it in the single-digit range. We considered Gillespie’s statement accurate but felt it needed further clarification or additional information, so we rated it Mostly True.