Health Care Overhaul May Mean Longer Lines at ER

July 2, 2010

The Associated Press office in Chicago is reporting that healthcare overhaul may mean even longer waiting times in emergency rooms around the country. ERs are often the only choice for patients who don’t have access to walk-in clinics or primary care physicians, but under the new health law, more may be turning to emergent care providers. This may seem counter-intuitive – shouldn’t more people with insurance mean shorter wait times? Here’s why 32 million more people with health insurance will mean longer lines instead, as explained by AP medical Writer Carla K. Johnson:

-There’s already a shortage of front-line family physicians in some places and experts think that will get worse.

-People without insurance aren’t the ones filling up the nation’s emergency rooms. Far from it. The uninsured are no more likely to use ERs than people with private insurance, perhaps because they’re wary of huge bills.

-The biggest users of emergency rooms by far are Medicaid recipients. And the new health insurance law will increase their ranks by about 16 million. Medicaid is the state and federal program for low-income families and the disabled. And many family doctors limit the number of Medicaid patients they take because of low government reimbursements.

-ERs are already crowded and hospitals are just now finding solutions.

What do hospitals say about this likelihood? Well, Dr. Arthur L. Kellerman, a researcher with Rand Corp explains it thusly, “More people will have coverage and will be less afraid to go to the emergency department if they’re sick or hurt and have nowhere else to go…. We just don’t have other places in the system for these folks to go.”

What does this mean to you? If you are insured, start looking for a family practitioner, general practitioner or primary care physician now, before you actually NEED an appointment; most offices will squeeze in regular patients. Also, see if your insurance covers wellness care, which helps you use preventative measures to stay healthy, minimizing the likelihood of using an emergency room at all.