Study: ERs Becoming Health 'safety Net'

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 14 (UPI) — A growing number of Americans, especially adults on Medicaid, are using hospital emergency rooms as their primary healthcare resource, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found hospital ERs increasingly serving as “safety nets” in American healthcare because by law they must treat all patients regardless of insurance or their ability to pay, USA Today reported Friday.

“There are alarming trends in emergency department visits,” said researcher Dr. Ning Tang, a clinical professor of medicine at the university.

“In 1999 adults with Medicaid visited the emergency department at a rate 3.5 times higher than the rate of adults with private insurance, and in 2007 adults with Medicaid visited the emergency department at a rate five times that of adults with private insurance,” she said.

The trend is worrisome, the researchers said, because at the same time that ER visits are increasing the number of emergency departments has fallen by 5 percent.

A large number of visits by Medicaid patients were for complaints that could have been handled by a primary care physician, Tang said.

The findings suggest that access to primary care is a key problem, she said.

“Whether it’s primary care physicians are not accepting new patients with Medicaid or that there aren’t enough primary care physicians, we need to dig a little bit deeper,” she said.

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