WASHINGTON, May 4 (UPI) -- Emergency care physicians say the ER is busier under Obamacare -- the opposite of what many policy makers predicted. It's the first year doctors have noticed a discernible difference since the law was passed.
One of the expected benefits of the Affordable Care Act was that emergency rooms would become less crowded. The logic was that if more people are insured -- roughly 10 million more people have insurance thanks to the healthcare law -- then more people will be able to address health issues with primary care physicians.
But according to a new poll of emergency healthcare professionals, that hasn't happened. In a survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), more than of quarter of the 2,000-plus respondents said they had witnessed an increase in ER visitors in the last year.
Roughly 90 percent of the respondents said the severity of illness or injury among ER visitors has either increased or remained the same.
"The reliance on emergency care remains stronger than ever," Dr. Michael Gerardi, president of the ACEP, said in a press release. "It's the only place that's open 24/7, and we never turn anyone away. Rather than trying to put a moat around us to keep people out, it's time to recognize the incredible value of this model of medicine that people need."
Gerardi says one of the problems is that there aren't enough primary healthcare providers to handle the influx of newly insured patients. The trend is also a product of routine. Patients who find themselves newly insured may simply be comfortable with and used to visiting the emergency room.
It should be noted that ACEP represents the interests of emergency care physicians, a group of doctors who have a financial interest in emergency medicine. Policy changes that discourage the use of emergency care could negatively affect this group in the long run.
Still, the new study suggests more may need to be done to diminish the burden on emergency rooms and encourage patients to seek out preventive care. If not, emergency rooms could become overwhelmed.
Damian Alagia, chief physician executive for KentuckyOne Health, told USA Today that ER professionals aren't ready for the continued influx of patients. "We're seeing an uptick pretty much across the system in our ERs," he said.
While he expects the uptick to continue for a while, he said the numbers will likely recede as more people find primary care physicians and transition to preventive care.