Despite Obamacare, Californians Using ERs More for Non-Emergencies

Covered California
Covered California

According to the Los Angeles Times, Californians have actually increased their use of emergency rooms for diagnosis of medical problems rather than using ERs for actual emergencies. That problematic scenario supposedly drove statewide support for Obamacare; overburdened emergency rooms were being used en masse by those without health insurance, thanks to provisions under California law that mandate coverage via emergency room without regard to insurance.

According to a study from the journal Health Affairs, from 2005 to 2011, injury-related visits to non-federal ERs declined markedly, nearly 1 percent, but the number of total ER visits increased markedly. That means that non-emergency visits relating to problems such as mental illness, nervous system disorders, stomach pain, and gastrointestinal disease jumped over 13 percent. Such visits were centralized among those without insurance and those with Medicaid.

The authors summed up:

California EDs are providing increasing amounts of care for complex emergencies related to chronic conditions, infections, and even non-specific symptoms. This trend reflects both changes in the population disease burden and the ED’s more central role in healthcare compared to its original charge to treat injured patients and provide charity care.

Obamacare in California, known as Covered California, was supposed to alleviate stressors to the emergency room system. Kaiser Health News and NPR reported in early 2014 that ER doctors were attempting to enroll patients in Obamacare specifically to avoid overburdening ERs with non-emergency visits. In September 2014, CBS News optimistically reportedthat “Obamacare could be a tonic for overtaxed ERs.”

Apparently not.