Despite Promises, Emergency-Room Visits Have Grown Under Obamacare

One of the main arguments President Obama offered in defense of the Affordable Care Act was that by increasing the number of uninsured it would reduce the number of emergency room visits, which are much more costly to taxpayers and patients. Yet since Obamacare’s enactment in 2013, the data show that the number of ER visits has actually increased.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A survey of 2,098 emergency-room doctors conducted in March showed about three-quarters said visits had risen since January 2014. That was a significant uptick from a year earlier, when less than half of doctors surveyed reported an increase. The survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians is scheduled to be published Monday.

Medicaid recipients newly insured under the health law are struggling to get appointments or find doctors who will accept their coverage, and consequently wind up in the ER, ACEP said. Volume might also be increasing due to hospital and emergency-department closures—a long-standing trend.

“There was a grand theory the law would reduce ER visits,” said Dr. Howard Mell, a spokesman for ACEP. “Well, guess what, it hasn’t happened. Visits are going up despite the ACA, and in a lot of cases because of it.”

The health law’s impact on emergency departments has been closely watched because it has significant implications for the public. ER crowding has been linked to longer wait times and higher mortality rates.

More than half of providers listed in Medicaid managed-care plans couldn’t schedule appointments for enrollees, according to a December report by the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General. Among providers who could offer appointments, the median wait time was two weeks, but more than a quarter of doctors had wait times of more than a month for an appointment.

Many doctors don’t accept Medicaid patients because the state-federal coverage provides lower reimbursement rates than many private health-insurance plans. The waits for primary and specialty care by participating doctors appear to be leaving some Medicaid patients with the ER as the only option, according to ACEP.

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Read the full story at the Wall Street Journal