August 28, 2014
City News Service
The pace of growth in Los Angeles County emergency room visits slowed in the early months of Obamacare, according to state records cited recently. During the first three months of expanded health insurance coverage required by the federal Affordable Care Act, emergency room visits by patients who didn’t require hospitalization increased 1-point-7 percent in the county compared with the same period last year, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of data from 75 hospitals. Annual ER visits in the county increased 3 percent last year and 5 percent in 2011 and 2012.
The preliminary data contrasts with the findings of a recent study that showed a dramatic increase in emergency room usage when insurance coverage was expanded for poor patients in Oregon. The Times analysis highlights shifting patterns of emergency room use and the challenges hospitals could face as they adapt to the new healthcare environment. Notably, thousands of new patients headed to private hospital ERs, while public hospitals that traditionally serve uninsured, poorer patients saw a dip in emergency room visits.
The inefficiency of using crowded and high-cost emergency rooms for basic medical care is a central problem Obamacare is supposed to correct. By requiring most Americans to sign up for medical insurance and subsidizing premiums for the needy, the new healthcare system is intended to improve regular, preventative care and reduce unnecessary emergency room usage. As a result, ER data is being closely watched by those seeking “to declare success or failure” for the controversial healthcare law, Sabrina Corlette, a professor at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, told The Times.
She said an initial increase of just 1-point-7 percent in the nation’s most populous county is a “great sign.” But gathering enough data to gauge the lasting effect of Obamacare on ER use is still “going to be years away,” she said.