One of the major advantages of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is its potential to reduce the total healthcare cost partly by cutting down the number of emergency room (ER) visits by patients with less-than-urgent needs. Earlier, the advocates of Obamacare asserted that the new healthcare law will diminish the emergency room crowding caused due to lack of coverage. The main theory behind this new rule was that individuals without health insurance coverage have no place to turn when they require serious medical attention and as a result will directly head to emergency department. Health insurance coverage will allow people to skip ER facilities and rely on less crowded physician offices.
However, a recent poll conducted by “The American College Emergency Physicians” found more ER visits since January 1, 2014 and about nine in ten physicians expect ER visits to rise in the next 3 years. As an initial part of the survey, more than 1,800 emergency room doctors were interviewed, with nearly 46% of physicians reporting a significant increase in the number of patients in these rooms after the coverage went into effect fully. Moreover, 86% of physicians surveyed said that they believed these numbers will record a further increase over the next three years.
Experts cite different reasons for this spike. A long standing shortage of primary-care physicians leaves very few people to handle this increasing number of newly insured people. As per the Association of American Medical Colleges, in the United States there will be a shortage of 91,500 physicians by 2020 and by 2025 it will be 130,600. Primary care physicians such as general internists, family doctors, and pediatricians (those doctors whom many people would consult first before seeing specialists) are in highest demand.
However, this is just one prominent reason for increased ER patient visits. Researchers suggest that some physicians no longer accept Medicaid and the low income group often can’t spare extra time from their work when primary care offices are open, while ERs are open round-the-clock and by law must at least stabilize patients. Moreover, uninsured patients who don’t have proper access to any physicians are also likely to use ERs, even when it is a highly expensive option. The survey results challenge the incessant affirmations that ObamaCare’s implementation would reduce emergency department visits.
At its core, health insurance is all about financial coverage. With these findings, experts in this field emphasize the importance of building up the primary care facility. The number of patient emergency room visits will continue to increase if other initiatives like retail clinics are not supported. Moreover, some health-policy experts believe that much of the increase can be alleviated by educating patients about their healthcare options. In most cases, people who have just gained health insurance for the first time are simply used to going to the emergency rooms for most of their healthcare needs. Therefore, it is equally important to make patients aware about the need to use emergency departments correctly.