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Emergency Rooms could take a hit with Obamacare

It’s what no one seems to be talking about: having insurance is no guarantee that you will get quality medical care. According to experts, Obamacare is expected to increase the number of patients seeking medical care but will do nothing to solve the issue of a shortage of doctors. What does this mean? You might have medical insurance, but there is no telling how long you might have to wait to see a doctor. The wait forces many patients to emergency rooms.

There are currently 48 million uninsured individuals in the United States. In the states which have decided to expand their Medicaid coverage many of them will be covered under the Affordable Care Act next year. But many medical doctors are now voicing concerns that the flood of new patients may cause a crash of not only the health insurance websites, which occurred on Tuesday, but also the entire United States health care system, particularly emergency rooms.

Dr. Ryan A. Stanton who currently works at Georgetown Community Hospital told CNN this week that currently there are many patients who use the emergency room because they cannot see a doctor.

"People turn to emergency rooms because they have no other place to go after hours or they don't have access to a level of appropriate primary care," Stanton said. "Emergency rooms have become the safety net of our health care system. We can't turn anyone away like a doctor's office could. ... I worry though with (Obamacare) this will significantly increase patient volume."

How dire is the doctor shortage?

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the U.S. needs at least 20,000 more doctors. Unfortunately, not only are fewer students entering the medical profession, doctors are also aging out or nearing retirement. The shortage also extends to nursing.

But is Obamacare the only problem? Even those who oppose Obamacare have to admit the problem of patient care has more to do with supply and demand. We have an aging population, and even if doctors were not retiring, we would have needed more doctors.

Another issue is that many students who do enter medical school have chosen to move into specialized fields rather than become a primary care doctors. The reason? Primary care doctors do not make as much money as specialist and many students need the extra pay to repay school loans which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What does Stanton think? He believes everyone getting insurance is like “giving everyone an ATM card in a town where there are no ATM machines." He believes this fact combined with insufficient primary care doctors will mean even more people will end up in the emergency room.

What happened in Massachusetts emergency rooms in 2006?

Experts note we have an example of what is likely to happen by studying the state of Massachusetts, which passed state mandated health insurance rules in 2006. In Massachusetts the time to get a doctor’s appointment grew exponentially after they updated their laws and has never lowered, and this was in a state with a very high physician-to-population ratio.

So is Stanton right? A Harvard study says yes; in fact, they discovered in all 11 of the Massachusetts emergency rooms the number of patients treated increased.
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