Emergency sign

Emergency Room visits, seen as a one stop shop for all medical needs by many, has been on Obamacare’s radar for a long time. When strategy for Obamacare was being crafted, a key necessity was to reduce the number of visits to the Emergency Room by providing better care to people through widespread health insurance coverage. Unfortunately, after Obamacare health insurance coverage kicking in, data shows that emergency room visits are increasing drastically.

With Obamacare coverage kicking in from January 1, substantial data is available for unraveling trends of ER visits. American College of Emergency Physicians conducted a study by polling 1,800 doctors specializing in emergency room visits, and recorded their responses. According to the results of the study, 46 percent of doctors reported an increase in ER usage since the Obamacare coverage kicked in. On the other hand, 23 percent doctors felt that there was a decline in visits after January 1, while 27 percent reported no significant change in the usage. The 46 percent is a matter of concern here, let’s see how.

The answer from 46 percent of the doctors shows that there is still room for improvement after extending health insurance to more people. Access to primary care should be a major focus point for the administration along with changing the habits of patients who use emergency rooms as a convenient way to address all medical problems. Since Obamacare wanted to target the costly ER visits and reduce that cost by offering better care facilities, especially for previously uninsured patients, this trend comes as a solid blow to the strategy. It wouldn’t be incredulous if the administration faces criticism for being unable to deliver their promise on this front.

While it is still not clear whether the law is delivering on its promise, the study definitely shows that irrespective of health insurance status, patients seek help from emergency departments due to availability of wide array of services. Also, since doctors cannot turn away a patient from an emergency room on the basis of their ability to pay for the services, many uninsured tend to use emergency rooms as their only option of getting health assistance and care. By next year, the gap between primary care physicians and people with health care coverage will work out to be about 30,000, and it will continue to widen. Naturally, in such circumstances, emergency room visits can only go up. Another theory behind this increase is that it is coming from patients that have been waiting to get health care, but were waiting for their health insurance to kick in. These patients could be new enrollees under Obamacare who have been delaying these visits due to lack of coverage or a provider who can tend to their medical needs. The theory is corroborated by the trends observed when Romneycare came into play in MA in 2007, or when Medicaid was expanded in Oregon in 2008.

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On the other end of the spectrum, doctors are supporting that there is a decrease in ER visits after Obamacare kick-in. American College of Emergency Physicians study shows about 23 percent of doctors experiencing a decline in ER visits, a fact that is supported by numbers coming out of Arkansas. In Arkansas, ER visits are down by 2 percent, with uninsured patients visiting ER reducing by 24 percent. As of now, a crystal clear picture is not available, but it seems that in regions with reducing ER visits, the outreach and education efforts about alternatives to ER have been working successfully.

To address the increase in ER usage nationwide, the administration will have to conduct the same outreach efforts across the country. Patients, with or without health insurance, need to be educated about the availability of better health services outside of the emergency room, and their right to use them. For those with insurance, the case becomes simpler as better health services will be made available to them in their health plan. For the uninsured, the situation can serve as an opportunity to call of health coverage.

In any case, the Obama administration needs to address this increase in ER visits across the country through any means possible, or prepare for Obamacare critics to berate them on another unfulfilled promise of reducing costly Emergency visits.

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