ER use continues to rise in wake of Affordable Care Act

In the wake of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many hospitals report a rise in the number of patients seeking care in their emergency departments, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In Los Angeles County, ED use for problems too minor to require an admission rose nearly 4 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the first half of 2013, according to the publication. This increase lines up with annual increases of between 3 and 5 percent in the three years before ACA implementation.

Furthermore, outpatient use in the emergency room fell 9 percent in the county's three major public hospitals, which have in years past served the bulk of uninsured patients. During the same time, the percentage of outpatient ED cases at some private hospitals increased by double digits, according to the article.

The growth in visits not requiring an admission was "good news," Shannon McConville, a health policy researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, told the Times. And officials at private hospitals told the Times they have had no problem handling the increased traffic thus far. For example, Torrance Memorial Medical Center's ED, which saw its average patients per day increase from 172 to 199 in a year, added more doctors and nurses to deal with the additional visits, according to Brian Miura, M.D., co-medical director of urgent care at the center.

A study last May from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) found a similar trend, with nearly half of ED physicians reporting an increase in ER visits since the beginning of 2014 and 86 percent expecting an increase over the next three years, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Massachusetts' 2006 healthcare reform law had a similar effect on Bay State ED use.

"When [newly insured] people can't get appointments with physicians, they will seek care in emergency departments," said ACEP President Alex Rosenau. "In addition, the population is aging, and older people are more likely to have chronic medical conditions that require emergency care."

To learn more:
- read the article