California Hospitals Pitch Obamacare to ER Patients

Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 01:13 PM

By Courtney Coren

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A California hospital has hired more workers and increased hours to help pitch Obamacare to uninsured patients, primarily those in the ER.

O'Connor Hospital in San Jose sees about 5,000 uninsured patients in it's ER every year. The hospital would like to reduce the number of patients who visit the emergency department for common illnesses. Educating patients about their health insurance options through Obamacare is one of those ways, National Public Radio is reporting.

Araceli Martinez runs the Health Benefits Resources Center at O'Connor and she says that about 70 percent of the uninsured that come to the San Jose hospital qualify for Medicaid, but they are often unaware of it. Those who don't, can still get health insurance through the state's exchange program.

If it turns out that an uninsured patient qualifies for medicaid, hospitals can get paid retroactively for up to three months. However, California has one of the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the country, and O'Connor CEO Jim Dover doesn't think the hospital will get much more money if they get the patients on Medicaid. His hope is that if more patients are insured, then they won't come to the ER for problems that could be addressed by elsewhere.

According to an Oregon study published Jan. 2 in the journal Science, Medicaid patients visit the ER 40 percent more than non Medicaid patients. 

"When you cover the uninsured, emergency room use goes up by a large magnitude," said Amy Finkelstein, lead researcher on the study and MIT economics professor. "In no case were we able to find any subpopulations, or type of conditions, for which Medicaid caused a significant decrease in emergency department use."

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