LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Los Angeles County emergency room visits slowed in the early months of Obamacare, according to state records.

During the first three months of expanded health insurance coverage mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act, emergency room visits by patients who didn’t require hospitalization increased 1.7 percent in the county, compared with the same period last year, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of data from 75 hospitals. Annual ER visits in the county increased 3 percent last year and 5 percent in 2011 and 2012.

The findings contrast with a recent study that showed a dramatic increase in emergency room insurance coverage was expanded for poor patients in Oregon.

The analysis highlights shifting patterns of emergency room use and the challenges hospitals may face as they adapt to the new healthcare environment, which has thousands of new patients headed to private hospital ERs, while public hospitals that traditionally served uninsured, poorer patients saw a dip in emergency room visits.

The inefficiency of using crowded and high-cost emergency rooms for basic medical care is a central problem Obamacare is supposed to correct. By requiring most Americans to sign up for medical insurance and subsidizing premiums for the needy, the new healthcare system is intended to improve regular, preventive care and reduce unnecessary emergency room usage.

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