ER WAIT TIMES INCREASING: DUH! NO KIDDING?

Single-payer zealots Steffie Woolhandler, David Himmelstein, et al, have produced a study confirming the blindingly obvious fact that ER wait times are increasing. From 1997 to 2004, the median wait to see an ER doctor went from 22 minutes to 30 minutes. For heart attack victims, the median wait jumped from 8 to 20 minutes.

None of this will come as the slightest surprise to anyone familiar with the operations of a typical hospital ER. So, why did these people spend so much time and money to tell us what we already know? The answer to that question can be found in their suggested solutions:

Reversing the trend of longer ED waits would likely require multiple reforms. Possible interventions include expanding insurance coverage and access to primary care resources to increase alternatives to ED visits; directing hospital resources to medical need … instead of profitable but unnecessary services.

Doctors Woolhandler and Himmelsrein are founding members of a single-payer advocacy group called Physicians for National Health Program that endorses HR676, the Dennis Kucinich “Medicare for All” bill. So, when they use the word “reform,” they mean a government imposed solution.

Thus, “expanding coverage” means getting rid of private insurance and letting Medicare metastisize throughout the entire health care system. And “directing hospital resources to need” means a federal decree from CMS telling hospitals what kinds of services they are permitted to offer.

The irony here is that increased ER wait times are the direct result of government intervention in the health care market. At the same time CMS began driving primary care physicians out of the market with it price control structure, Congress imposed EMTALA on the nation’s ERs.

So, the ER wait time problem cannot be solved by more government meddling. The solution is to pay primary care doctors enough so that they can afford to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients, remove the state and federal regulations that keep insurance costs so high, and revise EMTALA so that ERs are not inundated with patients seeking free care for non-urgent complaints.

Comments 3

  1. Kathleen O'Connor wrote:

    In the law of unintended consequences, many hospitals are now closing their ER departments or starting speciality hospitals without ERs.

    This just goes to show that we can no longer tinker with this system–that we have to re-think the entire enterprise. Which is what we are doing at CodeBlueNow!

    Posted 16 Jan 2008 at 6:00 pm
  2. drmatt wrote:

    You are so niave sometime, do you really think the insurance companies will lower prices for any reason, the market has shown that it can absorb the current price structure, you should also wait outside the gas station for gas prices to come down (HINT; pack a lunch).
    Have you read 676? In this bill, medicare for all will not tell the hospitals what services they will provide, just the services they will pay for, if people, private insurance or anybody else wants more, they can pay for it.
    By the Way, EMTALA was a response to the growing number of uninsured showing up at the ER, that is right a response to the failings of the “for profit” health system.
    The top reasons that people are frequenting the ER 1 actual emergency, 2 no health insurance and the er doesnt ask for money up front like the private offices 3 people have to wait three weeks to see thier pcp because he/she is booked out in order to try to recoup the poor “health Ins” reimbursements by keeping a very full schedule
    hmmmmmmm, 2 out of 3 are a direct result of the current insurance structure

    OH by the way, my love and I are going for induction tonight, so I probably wont be back to annoy you for week or so, thanks for the good thoughts.

    Posted 17 Jan 2008 at 8:55 am
  3. Marc Brown wrote:

    Good luck with the baby Drmatt. I’ve challenged David to come up with health insurance costs for a self-employed person (featured in a case study) under his reforms but so far there has been a deafening silence.

    Posted 17 Jan 2008 at 2:41 pm

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