Remember when Democrats told us that we needed to have government do a top-down reform of the entire American health-care system in order to cut costs? They repeatedly argued that the large number of uninsured created too much pressure on emergency rooms, which delivers the most expensive medical attention outside of surgery. ObamaCare, they argued, would insure those currently without insurance and therefore get them into clinics, which would reduce overall costs.
The only problem with that argument, the Associated Press reports today, is that it was based on the myth that the uninsured are the most frequent users of emergency-room care. It turns out that ObamaCare actually will make the situation worse — much, much worse:
Emergency rooms, the only choice for patients who can’t find care elsewhere, may grow even more crowded with longer wait times under the nation’s new health law.
That might come as a surprise to those who thought getting 32 million more people covered by health insurance would ease ER crowding. It would seem these patients would be able to get routine health care by visiting a doctor’s office, as most of the insured do.
It turns out that the insured and uninsured actually use emergency rooms in about the same proportion. The uninsured are not more likely to seek care in emergency rooms, especially since clinics are less expensive. Market forces work in similar ways for the insured and uninsured alike.
So who are the most likely to use emergency rooms rather than clinics?
The biggest users of emergency rooms by far are Medicaid recipients. And the new health insurance law will increase their ranks by about 16 million. Medicaid is the state and federal program for low-income families and the disabled. And many family doctors limit the number of Medicaid patients they take because of low government reimbursements.
Surprise! Or really, no big surprise. While private clinics can decide not to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, emergency rooms cannot. That leaves these patients with the choice of paying completely out of pocket for care in a clinic, or having most of the cost of emergency-room care covered by the government. It’s yet another example of the perverse outcomes that government interventions generate.
Now, one might think that Congress would have researched precisely this issue when deciding to use a vast expansion of Medicaid to supposedly lower costs. But that would only be true if we accepted another myth, which was that ObamaCare was really about reducing costs or improving outcomes. It wasn’t; it was all about trying to impose government control over the health-care sector and push insurers out of business.