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Survey: ER visits continue to climb under Affordable Care Act



May 15, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Emergency Medicine Hospitals and Health Facilities Emergency Services 

A recent survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) shows that emergency room (ER) visits are continuing to climb since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite predictions that the law would result in less crowding.


According to a news release, about three-quarters of the 2,098 ER physicians surveyed said that visits have risen since January 2014 — a significant increase from a year earlier, when less than half said they saw an upturn. More than one-quarter reported “significant increases in all emergency patients” since health insurance mandates took effect, and more than half said there has been a boost in Medicaid patients in the ER.


The new figures go against what many ACA supporters initially theorized, which was that better access to health care providers would result in a drop in ER visits.


“There was a grand theory the law would reduce ER visits,” ACEP spokesman Howard Mell, M.D., told The Wall Street Journal. “Well, guess what, it hasn’t happened. Visits are going up despite the ACA, and in a lot of cases because of it.”


According to ACEP, hospital and emergency department closures in certain areas may be one reason for the increase in volume, as well as Medicaid recipients turning to ERs when they can’t receive care in a timely manner or find a physician to accept their coverage.


Citing a new Health Policy Alternatives report, ACEP noted that more than half of providers listed by Medicaid managed-care plans could not offer appointments to enrollees, and that the median wait time for an appointment for Medicaid patients was two weeks.


“America has severe primary care physician shortages, and many physicians will not accept Medicaid patients because Medicaid pays so inadequately,” said ACEP President Michael Gerardi, M.D., in a statement. “Just because people have health insurance does not mean they have access to timely medical care.”


The ACEP survey also showed the illnesses and injuries of ER patients becoming more serious. About 44 percent of respondents reported the severity of illness or injury among emergency patients has increased, and about 42 percent said it has remained the same.


The survey was conducted online from March 16-23. For complete poll results, click here.

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