|By Bernard J. Wolfson, The Orange County Register|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Initial signs, however, point in the opposite direction.
In other words, many people are seeking care at emergency rooms not because they are uninsured but precisely because they now have insurance.
In a recent survey by the
"When I speak with other emergency physicians, it seems as if volume has increased faster since the Affordable Care Act than in the past," said
Not all hospitals are seeing an increase, which may reflect the demographics of their patients and the hospitals' contracts with insurers. And where ER visits are rising there may be other factors at play, including lack of primary access, an improving economy and patients' attitudes about where to seek care.
Some industry executives and observers caution against drawing early conclusions. The whole health care system is evolving rapidly under Obamacare, they note, and with a public education campaign and greater access to primary and urgent care, people may eventually kick the habit of going to the ER for symptoms that could be easily treated elsewhere.
But so far, the general trend in ER visits is upward. And financially speaking that is not good news, since visiting the ER costs about
Many people who visit the emergency room don't need to be there, but studies diverge widely on exactly how many. One survey shows that nearly half of patients visiting the ER can wait longer than an hour to be seen. Another says 76 percent could have been treated at a doctor's office or urgent care clinic. A third puts that figure at only about 10 percent.
Countywide, the ER patient load has risen by an average of 4.4 percent since January, according to data provided by the county's Emergency Medical Services agency. By contrast, the volume of ER visits in
"So we are above anything we would have expected from the previous years' trend," said
Stratton believes the economic recovery could help explain the rise in ER use. "During recessions, emergency department traffic drops, and when the economy is improving, it goes up," he notes. "So it could be that or it could be the Affordable Care Act. We don't really know."
--Visits to the emergency room at