Wednesday, August 6, 2008

As numbers of the uninsured go up, so do ER visits

Hospital emergency departments, typically the medical providers of last resort, are becoming the only option for insured as well as uninsured people who are unable to get care elsewhere, leading to a record rise in emergency room visits over the past decade, a federal government report found.

ER visits jumped more than 32 percent from 90.3 million in 1996 to 119 million in 2006, the most recent year statistics are available, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The uninsured have long been more frequent users of (emergency rooms). That's not new. What's new is the rise ... in frequency in visits, and that's occurring in the insured," said Dr. Stephen Pitts, author of the report and a CDC fellow, who teaches emergency medicine at Emory University's School of Medicine.

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ER visits are also the most expensive and for the uninsured, usually costs are not recovered by the hospital. This cost is spread to the insured patients raising the cost of their insurance. - Bill