By Peter Suderman | Reason
Supporters of Obamacare have long pitched the law as a way to address emergency room crowding caused by lack of health coverage. Individuals without health coverage, the thinking goes, have no place to turn when they need medical attention, and as a result they head to the emergency room. That creates crowding, which can strain medical resources. It’s also more expensive than an ordinary trip to the doctor. The theory was that by giving people insurance, Obamacare could mitigate this problem, allowing more people to skip emergency care facilities by relying on less crowded, less expensive doctors offices instead.
President Obama pitched a version of this idea in a speech last September, arguing that emergency room visits by the uninsured represented a hidden tax on everyone else. “When uninsured people who can afford to get health insurance don’t, and then they get sick or they get hit by a car, and they show up at the emergency room, who do you think pays for that?” he asked.
But the best evidence has never really supported the hope that the law would reduce emergency room usage. That’s because much of the law’s expanded coverage comes via Medicaid, the jointly run federal-state program for the low income and disabled. And Medicaid beneficiaries tend to visit the emergency room more often than the uninsured.
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