ER Visits Climb in Bay State

May 20th, 2009 | Sources: Boston Globe


Data are filtering in on Massachusetts’ grand plan to extend health insurance coverage to virtually all Bay Staters. The good news is just about everyone’s covered. The bad news is just about everything else.

canthisdataberight?When it comes to controlling health care costs, the state’s performance has been abysmal. Experts recently predicted that the state will spend $600 million more in 2009 on health care than in 2006, a 42% bump.

Now comes troubling data on a measure of access to care, emergency room visit volume.

In theory, the state’s new law should cut the costly visits because more people have access to PCPs that can either treat health situations before they reach crisis proportions or prevent them altogether.

In fact, ER visits went up 7% and the cost per ER visit jumped 17% in Massachusetts between 2005 and 2007, according to data shared with the Boston Globe.

The fraction of ER visits for non-urgent matters that could have been handled by a PCP remained unchanged at an astonishingly high 47%.

Massachusetts officials said several more years were required before accurate assessments could be made regarding the impact of their law on access to care.

The law actually went into effect half-way through the data collection period used to make the conclusions above, so they may have a point there.

Still, many worry that simply extending health insurance coverage isn’t going to control costs or improve access. They say the state needs to beef up its PCP corps before the program can work.

“Just because you have insurance doesn’t mean there’s a [PCP] who can see you,” said Sandra Schneider, VP of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “I am not surprised that visits went up.”


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