Long Wait Times in California ERs Blamed on Obamacare

Monday, 07 Jul 2014 01:34 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Patients heading to many California emergency rooms can expect to spend the better part of a workday waiting to see a doctor, thanks to the higher number of people using their
Obamacare benefits in ERs rather than paying for visits to a primary doctor.

The average wait time for the state's emergency rooms was already at more than five hours, according to a report from the California Healthcare Foundation last October, when Obamacare went live.

But now, doctors in California say more patients than ever are crowding into emergency rooms because far fewer doctors accept Obamacare policies than had been anticipated.

Story continues below video.

Officials at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, California, told local Fox News affiliate KMPH that it is now processing 300 to 400 patients a day — many of whom did not have insurance before their Obamacare cards arrived in the mail.

California's emergency rooms have always been slow, the state healthcare foundation's report found. Even before Obamacare kicked in, the average wait time was more than five hours among patients who were admitted, nearly an hour longer than the national average.

Californians were experiencing long ER wait times for years, however. According to an analysis by healthcare consulting firm Press Garney, wait times even in 2009 were over four hours long, ranking the state in 40th place for wait times, reports Californiawatch.org.

At that time, instead of Obamacare, the waits were blamed on "low rates of insured patients, staffed inpatient beds and registered nurses, as well as a shortage of medical facilities."

According to Dr. Jay Kaplin of the American College of Emergency Physicians, "Almost half of emergency physicians polled had already seen a rise in their emergency department visits since Jan. 1 when expanded coverage of the Affordable Care Act took place," KMPH reported.

Another part of the problem is that some Obamacare programs are not paying doctors enough to cover the costs of visits, Dr. Robert Subers told the station.

"Even if we loved it and wanted to do it, we'd go bankrupt doing it," Subers said, adding that his office can't accept patients with Obamacare policies.

Subers' typical office calls are $80 a visit for people without insurance. However, Blue Cross' Obamacare insurance only pays doctors $47 per patient visit.

"It was supposed to increase access to care. Obamacare was supposed to bring down healthcare costs," Subers said. "I'm trying to see where it's done either."

As a result, KMPH reports, 9 out of every 10 ER doctors surveyed say patient visits will only increase, and they are concerned their departments won't be able to handle it.

"Now effectively since more people have insurance, we are going to be the porch of the medical neighborhood," said Kaplin. "[We need to] rebrand ourselves not being just for emergencies anymore but rather being acute care, diagnostic, evaluation, and treatment centers."

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