US health reform threatens to cram already overwhelmed emergency rooms

A chief aim of the new health care law was to take the pressure off emergency rooms by mandating that people have insurance coverage. The idea was that if people have insurance, they will go to a doctor rather than putting off care until they faced an emergency.

However, the new health care law will pack 32 million newly insured people into emergency rooms already crammed beyond capacity, according to experts on health care facilities. People who build hospitals say the newly insured people will still go to emergency rooms for primary care because they don't have a doctor.

Some Democrats agree with this assessment. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) suspects the fallout that occurred in Massachusetts' emergency rooms could happen nationwide after health reform kicks in:

  • In 2006 Massachusetts created near-universal coverage for residents, which was supposed to ease the traffic in hospital emergency rooms.
  • But a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that nearly two-thirds of the state's residents say emergency department wait times have either increased or remained the same.
  • A February 2010 report by The Council of State Governments found that wait times had not abated since the law took effect.

    "That is not an unrealistic question about what's going to happen in the next four years as you bring all these people on; who are they going to see?" McDermott said.

    Richard Foster, Chief Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told The Hill that the current dearth of primary care physicians could lead to greater stress on hospital emergency rooms.

    The Academy of Architecture for Health predicts hospitals will need at least $2 trillion over the next 20 years to meet the coming demand.

    Source: Jay Heflin, Health reform threatens to cram already overwhelmed emergency rooms, The Hill, May 15, 2010.

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    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, Dallas and Washington, USA

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 25 May 2010
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