A report released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics provides an interesting look at emergency room use in America. It backs up the information contained in a similar study a couple of years ago that found that emergency room overcrowding cannot be attributed to uninsured people using the ER as a primary care facility.
The report found that having a primary care provider did not impact how often a person visited the emergency room, and that the uninsured were no more likely than the insured to go to the emergency room. In addition, most people who went to the emergency room truly did have an urgent medical condition, which is contrary to the popular belief that emergency rooms are over-crowded because people are using them in place of primary care.
One thing that did stand out for me when I looked at the report was that in all age groups, there were dramatically more people with Medicaid visiting the ER than there were people with private health insurance or no insurance at all. The same held true when looking at people who had multiple ER visits during the year. Finding a doctor who takes Medicaid is significantly more difficult than finding a doctor who takes private health insurance, and I wonder if that might be a contributing factor in the crowding of our emergency rooms. If a person with Medicaid is sick and unable to find a nearby doctor who accepts Medicaid, he might end up not seeing a doctor at all and his condition might worsen to the point of needing emergency room care. Maybe efforts to make Medicaid more attractive to doctors might help to alleviate some of the over-crowding in emergency rooms.