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Access To Health Insurance Needed To Address Emergency Department Overcrowding

Armen Hareyan's picture

A"very plausible interpretation of a disturbing increase" in emergencydepartment wait times is that the "nation's failure to provide healthinsurance for all Americans seems to be harming even many of those who do havegood health coverage," a New YorkTimeseditorial states. "Uninsured patients -- and those who have no primarycare doctor -- flock to emergency rooms for routine coverage, clogging thesystems," and "hospitals lose so much money dispensing charity carethrough emergency rooms that many collapse into bankruptcy or give up emergencycare," according to the editorial.

The editorial cites a recent study conducted by researchers at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School that found median wait times to see physicians in EDs increased from 22minutes in 1997 to 30 minutes in 2004. According to the editorial, physicianswith the alliance recommended "expanding insurance coverage and primarycare for the poor to provide alternatives to overcrowded emergency rooms forthose seeking routine care." The editorial concludes, "That is thebest way to ensure that all the people who truly need emergency care get itwhen they need it" (New York Times, 1/19).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.