Who Uses the Emergency Room?

It’s a given that the growing use of Emergency Rooms across the country for the care of non-urgent medical problems is the consequence of large numbers of uninsured patients who lack access to other types of outpatient care. This belief is often used to justify expansions of government programs which, it is argued, will take the load off of our overburdened ERs.

Peter J Cunningham examined this issue and published his findings in Health Affairs (2006). He found that “Contrary to popular perceptions, communities with high ED (Emergency Departments) use have fewer numbers of uninsured , Hispanic, and noncitizen residents.”

His data source for this analysis was the 2003 Community Tracking Study. Twelve metropolitan areas across the country were examined. Insurance status didn’t seem to correlate with ER use. “For example, in 2003, the uninsured had about 16 fewer visits on average (per 100 people) compared to Medicaid enrollees, about 20 fewer visits compared to Medicare enrollees, and roughly similar levels of use compared to privately insured people.”

These finding really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Medicine is now practiced by emergency room. Call your doctor about a problem and if it can’t wait until your next clinic visit he’ll tell you to go to the ER. You can have 100 insurance policies and he’ll still send you there where you may die of ennui before whatever drove you there in the first place gets you. The use of the ER for the care of everything including despair has become so habit forming that only mass conversion of the entire population to Christian Science can stop it.

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