Reality Check: MORE Patients Flocking to Emergency Rooms Under Obamacare, Not Less


Norton Hospital emergency room technician Christy Coviello adjusts an ice pack on Richard Roberts. Roberts received health care coverage via Coventry Care a few months ago. (Photo: Alton Strupp/The Courier-Journal)

It wasn’t supposed to work this way (actually, yes it was — Ed.) but since the Affordable Care Act took effect in January, Norton Hospital has seen its packed emergency room become even more crowded, with about 100 more patients a month.

“It’s a perfect storm here. We’ve given people an ATM card in a town with no ATMs.”

— Dr. Ryan Stanton of Lexington

That 12 percent spike in the number of patients — many of whom aren’t actually facing true emergencies — is spurring the hospital to convert a waiting room into more exam rooms.

By the numbers

12% – The per-month increase in ER visits at Norton Hospital since the ACA went into effect

9% – The increase of Ky. Medicaid patients seen in ERs in March, compared with last March

3,790 – The number of doctors needed in Ky. to meet pre-ACA demand, as of last year

284 – The projected number of new primary-care doctors needed in Ky. by 2017

Sources: Norton Hospital, Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Deloitte Consulting

“We’re seeing patients who probably should be seen at our (immediate-care centers),” said Lewis Perkins, the hospital’s vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer. “And we’re seeing this across the system.”

That’s just the opposite of what many people expected under Obamacare, particularly because one of the goals of health reform was to reduce pressure on emergency rooms by expanding Medicaid and giving poor people better access to primary care.

Instead, many hospitals in Kentucky and across the nation are seeing a surge of those newly insured Medicaid patients walking into emergency rooms.

Nationally, nearly half of ER doctors responding to a recent poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians said they’ve seen more visits since Jan. 1, and nearly nine in 10 expect those visits to rise in the next three years. Mike Rust, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, said members statewide describe the same trend.

Experts cite many reasons: A longstanding shortage of primary-care doctors leaves too few to handle all the newly insured patients. Some doctors won’t accept Medicaid. And poor people often can’t take time from work when most primary care offices are open, while ERs operate round-the-clock and by law must at least stabilize patients…(read more)

3 Comments on “Reality Check: MORE Patients Flocking to Emergency Rooms Under Obamacare, Not Less”

  1. genomega1 says:

    Reblogged this on News You May Have Missed and commented:
    Reality Check: MORE Patients Flocking to Emergency Rooms Under #Obamacare, Not Less

  2. […] Pundit from another Planet It wasn’t supposed to work this way (actually, yes it was — Ed.) but since the […]

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