Healthcare Reform Will Make Emergency Room Crowding Even Worse

One of the most oft-cited inefficiencies with our current healthcare system is the problem of the uninsured showing up at emergency rooms with minor ailments, or ailments that could have been minor, if only they’d gone to a doctor earlier. In other words they are using the ER for their primary care.

By law, emergency rooms can’t deny care to anyone, so anyone can show up with anything and be seen. This is very inefficient, expensive, and it’s not what emergency rooms were designed for. We should get large savings just be solving this problem alone the argument goes. Expand coverage to everyone and allow people to go to doctors and the ER problem is solved.

But it might not be so easy. If 50 million uninsured people become newly insured, ER waiting times should significantly worsen as more newly insured people attempt to find primary care docs to no avail and turn to the “one stop shop” of the ERs simply because they can— now insurance pays for their healthcare. This is what has happened in Massachusetts which enacted legislation that mandates that everyone be covered by health insurance.

There is no way you can decrease the cost of healthcare without expanding the supply of healthcare services since we know resources are already strapped.

If you have a 10-day wait as it is now to see an appointment, think of how much longer you’ll have to wait when you’ll be competing for slots with all the newly insured? The planned healthcare reforms have it all exactly backwards. If we want to reduce costs (which would have the affect of expanding coverage) we have to do it on the supply side.