NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Massachusetts Sees Busier ERs, Despite Mandatory Insurance

May 12, 2011

When the Massachusetts Legislature made health insurance mandatory five years ago, supporters of the first-in-the-nation law hoped it would keep patients out of hospital emergency rooms, says the Boston Globe.

There is yet more evidence, however, that it did not turn out that way.       

  • Three-quarters of Massachusetts emergency room (ER) physicians who responded to a survey said the number of patients in their ERs climbed in the last year.        
  • They cited ''physician shortages'' along with a growing elderly population as the top two reasons why more patients come to ERs.        
  • The law ''didn't create an infrastructure,'' said Dr. David John, chief of emergency care at Caritas Carney Hospital in Boston. "Doctors offices are full to capacity.''        
  • Dr. John said he saw one patient recently with knee pain: "I asked him why he came to the ER.  He said, 'My doctor gave me an appointment for May 26.' That's a month away!''

The number of doctors who responded to the survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians -- 56 in Massachusetts -- is small.  But their responses echo findings from last July, when state health officials found that ER visits rose 9 percent from 2004 to 2008, to about 3 million visits a year.

Insurance coverage is just the first step.  You need enough doctors to see the patients, and they must have room on their schedules for last-minute appointments, sometimes at inconvenient hours, says the Globe.

Source: Liz Kowalczyk, "Survey: ERs Are Busier, Despite State Law," Boston Globe, April 28, 2011.

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