Hospitals Inundated With Uninsured as Emergency Room Visits Grow
Advocacy group calls for increased funding to community health centers. Over one million New Yorkers served by community health centers in 2003.
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By Michael Long
August 11, 2004
The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) released a report this week detailing the pressures facing the nation’s hospital system as it serves millions of uninsured Americans. In a report released in March 20004, the NACHC reported that 36 million Americans do not have access to a regular source of healthcare.
The report found that over 110 million hospital emergency room visits in 2002, up from 90 million in 1998. The report also noted that between 10 and 50% of all emergency room visits are for non-urgent and avoidable conditions.
In a statement, Dr. Monica Sweeney, MD, Vice President of Medical Affairs, Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center in Brooklyn, NY, noted, “What this report reveals are the very serious holes in our health care system that are getting bigger. I see evidence of this every day at our health center, where uninsured patients are lining up at the door. Many of the patients I see waited longer than they should have before coming to see a doctor because they didn’t have insurance or worried about how much the care would cost.”
The report highlights the savings in cost and illness that could be achieved if the health care system shifted funding from the emergency room to non-urgent settings. In New York, community health centers served over one million New Yorkers in 2003, over 25% of them uninsured while almost 7.5 million visits were made to emergency rooms in 2002. The NACHC estimated that if only 10% of those emergency room visits were dealt with in community health centers or other non-urgent facilities, the system would have saved over $110,000 million.
As this is the most conservative estimate of the percentage of emergency room visits that could have been treated in non-urgent settings, New York could possibly be saving hundreds of millions of dollars every year by providing preventive healthcare to more of its poor and uninsured residents. Much of the funding of these centers comes from City, State, and Federal contributions to Medicaid.
An April 2004 study released by the United Hospital Fund found that there are 500,000 New Yorkers eligible for Medicaid who are not currently signed up for the program. The Health and Hospitals Program, the city’s public hospital system, is facing quickly escalating costs from the treatment of uninsured patients.
This week’s report and the budget pressure facing New York City’s public hospitals makes it not only healthier for patients, but fiscally necessary, that the city provide increased preventive medical services for the its poor and medically underserved.
“A Nation’s Health At Risk II: A Front Row Seat In A Changing Health Care System,” National Association of Community Health Centers (8/9/04)
"Study Estimates Cost of Enrolling Eligible but Uninsured Adults in Medicaid,” United Hospital Fund (4/12/04)