ER Wait Times Increased by Government Meddling

A new study shows that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), in addition to being a huge financial burden on hospitals and physicians, has dramatically increased wait times in America’s emergency rooms:

EMTALA is another example of federal legislation that hurts the very people that it was meant to protect: low-income patients in need of emergency medical services.

How did that happen?

Under EMTALA, hospital ERs are forbidden to turn away any patient, even when it is blindingly obvious that there is no emergency condition present. And many ER patients aren’t especially sick:

In a study that questioned patients waiting to be seen in the ER, one-third of patients considered their problems of no or only minor seriousness.

But, once a patient appears in the ER, EMTALA mandates that she receive a medical evaluation, regardless of condition or ability to pay. Thus, hospitals and doctors are forced to provide an enormous amount of free care to patients whose maladies are not urgent.

The excess demand resulting from this idiotic mandate has produced overcrowding in 68% of urban emergency rooms, where most low-income patients are treated. That means long wait times:

In ERs that are at or over capacity, the wait times for patients to be seen are roughly twice the wait times in ERs that are not at capacity.

So, low-income patients in serious need of emergency care find themselves languishing in ER waiting rooms overcrowded with people who aren’t very ill.

Such wonderful things happen when Washington apparatchiks decide to “improve? health care.

Comments 2

  1. James Lansberry wrote:

    It’s not just wait time that gets increased, it’s overall costs.

    I think that a law requiring hospitals to treat critical patients is legitimate–none of us should pass by someone who is dying.

    But patients who are using the ER to get free health care ought to be turned away, as should people who use the ER and have insurance just because it’s convenient or they didn’t want to wait until a clinic opened up in the morning.

    Posted 16 Jul 2007 at 9:49 am
  2. Catron wrote:

    It does indeed drive up costs. An important driver of health care inflation is overutilization, and much of that comes from patients using hospital ERs as clinics.

    Posted 18 Jul 2007 at 1:36 pm

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