America’s emergency rooms are on life support. The average ER visit takes over two hours. In some states, it’s north of three.
President Obama promised that the Affordable Care Act would alleviate the pressure on ERs by expanding access to insurance — and thus diverting people who previously would’ve gone to the emergency room for routine care to the doctor’s office instead.
But according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ObamaCare has had almost no impact on ER usage. In fact, by doling out insurance coverage to millions more people without doing anything to address America’s growing doctor shortage, the president’s health reform law may make the ER crisis even worse.
Of course, that’s not what President Obama predicted when he sold his health reform package to the public. At a speech in 2009, he proclaimed that ObamaCare would “save all of us money and reduce pressures on emergency rooms all across the country.”
His reasoning made some degree of sense. The majority of patients seeking care in the ER are uninsured. ObamaCare would give many of these folks coverage, whether through the exchanges or the expansion of Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the poor. Armed with that coverage, his thinking went, they’d visit the lower-cost doctor’s office rather than the higher-cost emergency room. Ergo, fewer overall visits to the ER.
Things haven’t worked out that way. In 2013, the year before ObamaCare’s exchanges launched and its Medicaid expansion took effect, nearly 20% of Americans visited the ER. In 2014, that figure stayed the same — even after the law had extended insurance coverage to 9 million previously uninsured Americans. More than 71% of those people got their coverage through states’ expansion of Medicaid.
The percentage of Medicaid patients who went to the emergency room because they couldn’t get care elsewhere actually rose. That’s exactly the opposite of what the president predicted.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. Doctors have long been reluctant to take Medicaid because of the program’s low reimbursement rates, which are two-thirds of what Medicare pays, on average. Nearly one in three doctors refuse to accept new Medicaid patients.
By increasing the number of people on Medicaid’s rolls, ObamaCare has made the competition for appointments with the remaining doctors who will see them even stiffer.
Meanwhile, the overall quality of ER care is worse than before ObamaCare. In 2009, the American College of Emergency Physicians gave the nation’s emergency-care system a grade of C-. This assessment was based on a variety of factors, including access to care providers, patient safety and hospital capacity.
By 2014, four years into ObamaCare, that grade was even worse — a dismal D+.
Sadly, ERs could be taxed even further. Within the next decade, the U.S. will be short 90,000 doctors, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Everyone covered by private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid will be competing for a dwindling number of doctor’s appointments. Folks who can’t get one will have to turn to the ER for medical attention.
As of today, 19 states have refused to expand their Medicaid programs under ObamaCare. If any change their mind, this problem will only worsen.
The nation’s emergency departments are ill-equipped to handle more patients. Already, there are only about 13 ER doctors for every 100,000 Americans.
Contrary to the president’s promises, ObamaCare hasn’t resuscitated our emergency-care system. It has put it in critical condition.