One of the President’s favorite arguments for Obamacare was that it would save money by insuring those who would otherwise get taxpayer-funded care from the emergency room. “Those of us with health insurance,” he said last September, “are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it—about $1,000 per year that pays for somebody else’s emergency room and charitable care.”
Unfortunately, the experience of Massachusetts appears to be disproving the President’s hypothesis. Last week, the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy reported that, despite the imposition of universal health insurance in that state in 2006, emergency room visits increased by 9 percent between 2004 and 2008, even after taking population increases into account.
The Boston Globe spoke with David Morales, the commissioner of the Division, who explained that the uninsured “are not really responsible for significant ER use,” echoing the findings of national and local studies. As John Goodman points out, “people with insurance consume twice as much health care as the uninsured, all other things equal.” If the number of doctors stays the same, but more and more people utilize health care resources, the supply of available doctors goes down.
Hence, it takes longer and longer to get an appointment to see a doctor, and people end up right back where they started: in the emergency room. As the Globe points out, “the growing use of emergency rooms has significant cost implications, because private insurers and government programs pay substantially more for a visit to the emergency room than for a doctor’s appointment.”
Massachusetts reminds us: Access to health insurance is not the same thing as access to health care.