Who's packing ERs? Not the uninsured

WASHINGTON Wed May 19, 2010 8:25pm EDT

A man stands outside the emergency room of Health Central Hospital in Occoee, Florida December 8, 2009. REUTERS/Scott Audette

A man stands outside the emergency room of Health Central Hospital in Occoee, Florida December 8, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Scott Audette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One in five people in the United States visit an emergency room every year, and most of them have health insurance of some kind, according to a U.S. government survey released on Wednesday.

The survey contradicts a common perception that emergency rooms are packed with uninsured people and illegal immigrants. It also rejects some claims that people are using the emergency department for routine care -- just 10 percent of visits were for non-urgent causes.

"In 2007, approximately one in five persons in the U.S. population had one or more emergency department visits in a 12-month period," the report from the National Center for Health Statistics reads.

"Among the under-65 population, the uninsured were no more likely than the insured to have had at least one emergency department visit in a 12-month period."

Tamyra Carroll Garcia and colleagues at the center used two large national surveys of healthcare use in 2007 for their study.

"Since 1996, demand for emergency services in the United States has been rising," they wrote.

"While the number of emergency departments (EDs) across the country has decreased, the number of ED visits has increased. As a result, EDs are experiencing higher patient volume and overcrowding, and patients seeking care are experiencing longer wait times," they added.

"As national health care costs continue to rise and policymakers become increasingly interested in ways to make the health care system more efficient, it is important to understand the characteristics of those individuals who use EDs -- often in place of other sources of ambulatory care."

They found that the more income people had, the less likely they were to ever visit an emergency room. People over 75 and blacks were the most likely to visit emergency rooms.

The American College of Emergency Physicians published a survey this month showing that 61 percent of emergency doctors surveyed believe U.S. healthcare reform will send even more people to emergency departments.

Only 1 percent of the 1,800 doctors surveyed thought visits would decrease. And 47 percent said the reforms signed into law in March would worsen overcrowding in emergency rooms.

"It's important to note the report finds that having a usual source of medical care, such as a primary care provider, does not affect the number of times people under age 65 visit the emergency department," Dr. Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said of Wednesday's report.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Mohammad Zargham)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (45)
DocInaBox wrote:
Balony. In the detroit area the hospital ER is the largest source of unpaid care totaling in the 10’s of millions annually per hospital. Arab family “visitors” fly in when start having angina in their country to get the free care we have here. Inner city populations use the ER as the 24 hour care center for splinters and minor wounds because they dont want to miss spending time in the casinos after recieving the welfare checks. Detroit Medical Center has complained for years about its unpaid for care to medicaid and uninsured patients.

May 19, 2010 8:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bunkerbluster wrote:
Gosh, should I believe some racist Tea party shill named docinabox, or the National Center for Health Statistics. I think I’ll go with the NCHS, thanks.
(btw , “i before e, EXCEPT after c” that’s “receiving the welfare checks”, easy on the tea, patriot !

May 19, 2010 11:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
DocInaBox wrote:
Bunkerbluster look up operating costs and revenue figures for any of the detroit area hospitals (or Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dayton, etc). Instead of blindly believing snap shot reports without any real detail or depth, why don’t you use your brain power and try medical school so that you can see the reality.

May 19, 2010 12:38am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.