ObamaCare Does Nothing to Reduce Emergency Room Visits

Jason Reed/Reuters

U.S. News & World Report cushions the blow by claiming that a new government report shows “ObamaCare is still far from achieving one of its goals,” but this is another catastrophic disaster for the President’s scheme.

The primary objective of ObamaCare was supposed to be getting everyone into an insurance plan to eliminate “cost-shifting” from emergency room visits… and it hasn’t made a dent. Vast amounts of money were spent for no result at all, on the core appeal that convinced many Americans to give the Affordable Care Act a shot.

Think back to the early Obama years, and you’ll recall one of the major arguments for health-care reform was the notion that we’re all paying to care for the uninsured anyway, through the least efficient means possible. Uninsured people would go to hospital emergency rooms, where they could not be denied care.

The cost of this very expensive and inefficient system was passed along to the rest of us through “cost-shifting,” which meant hospitals would increase the fees for other services to both paying clients and insurance companies – which would, of course, pass their costs along to paying clients.

This wasn’t just part of the public relations campaign for ObamaCare – it was part of the legal defense in the appalling travesty of Supreme Court justice that kept it alive. As a trio of scholars skeptical of the cost-shifting argument wrote at the Wall Street Journal in 2011:

The centerpiece of the court battle over ObamaCare’s constitutionality is the law’s mandate that most U.S. residents obtain health insurance. To justify the mandate, the administration and Congress have asserted that people with private insurance pay for care for the uninsured through “cost shifting”—higher prices charged by doctors and hospitals to recover losses from uncompensated care.

The government argues that the Constitution permits Congress to require that people get insurance in order to reduce the extent of this “hidden tax.” Although courts have disagreed about the constitutionality of the mandate and the new law as a whole, all courts have accepted the premise that the hidden tax is significant.

The value of that “hidden tax” was portrayed as a whopping $43 billion per year, which worked out to a $1,000 increase in the average family’s health insurance premiums. Much of the argument for ObamaCare’s alleged thrift was based on eliminating this hidden tax and “saving” Americans $43 billion per year.

The WSJ authors went on to challenge the prevailing wisdom about cost-shifting, saying that very little of the data came from independent peer-reviewed studies – it was mostly the work of activist groups that wanted to increase the involvement of government in the health insurance market.

They most certainly got their wish, as the biggest, worst-designed program of the modern era was dumped on Americans. And what do you know – it didn’t do squat to alleviate emergency room visits. Once again, the critics of ObamaCare were proven absolutely correct.

From Thursday’s article in U.S. News & World Report:

President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, has brought the number of people lacking health insurance to a historic low. Yet it also aimed to reduce visits to emergency departments, where the uninsured would often go to receive care but which are often strained with high volumes of patients and deliver more costly services. In giving millions more people access to health insurance coverage, the creators of Obamacare theorized that patients would seek medical help earlier with their doctors as symptoms develop, rather than rush to the emergency room during a time of crisis.

But findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that not having health care coverage isn’t the only factor keeping people from defaulting to the ER for care, and that “ER use overall has not changed significantly after the first full year of ACA implementation.”

The report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics used data from the 2013 and 2014 National Health Interview Survey to assess why and how often people went to the emergency room. Data from 2014 – the year that coverage provisions in Obamacare went into effect – showed the percentage of adults visiting the ER didn’t differ much from the year before, despite the fact that 7.9 million gained coverage between the two years.

As “cost-shifting” skeptics said all along, most emergency room visits are driven by patient perceptions of the seriousness of their conditions – the CDC report chalks up 77 percent of E.R. visits to that reason.

Others went because they couldn’t see their regular doctor – and ObamaCare is notoriously reducing access to doctors for many patients. That problem is likely to increase, as President Obama’s deformation of the insurance market pushes providers offer even more restrictive plans, or abandon the marketplace altogether.

The remaining E.R. patients were the uninsured, and according to the CDC, their visits to emergency rooms have slightly increased. Great job, ObamaCare designers!

About the best that can be said for Obama’s disastrous scheme is that a slight decrease in E.R. reliance was noted among people with both private insurance and Medicaid. We could have expanded Medicaid without the rest of ObamaCare’s garbage… but of course, the con artists who inflicted the Affordable Care Act on us knew that Americans wouldn’t go for an honest discussion about dramatically expanding Medicaid. A lot of the other garbage was camouflage for Medicaid increases that could not have been sold honestly.

As for private health insurance, we desperately need to repeal ObamaCare and get real market-oriented reforms in place to make it more competitive, or we’re going to lose the private insurance industry altogether.

U.S. News is disingenuous to portray reducing the load on emergency rooms as a minor or incidental feature of ObamaCare. It was the entire point of the exercise. Violating the Constitution to force everyone to buy health insurance was supposed to be a more effective and fair means of socializing the cost than letting the uninsured rely on emergency-room care and passing the cost along to everyone else behind the scenes.

Dishonest nonsense about people “dying in the streets” without health care reform was easily debunked by noting the lack of people dying in the streets.

For a fraction of what America wasted on the doomed scheme called ObamaCare, we could have upgraded our ability to provide emergency medical care to the truly needy, while using wise reforms to let private insurance function as insurance. The core problem with health care is decades of government effort to make it “insurance” in name only.

Instead, we’ve allowed parasitic government and insurance companies to devour billions of dollars of our money, and wasted vast amounts of our valuable time complying with badly-written rules and an expensive crapware computer system, with zero improvement to the actual delivery of health care. On the contrary, it’s getting worse, and the worst is yet to come.