"If you look at the Massachusetts, which is the basis for the Affordable Care Act, they found their volume of ED visits increased about 9% a year. When Canada instituted similar sorts of coverage their visits went up as well," Bern says. "Wherever this has been attempted to provide universal coverage or near-universal coverage utilization increases unless you provide an infrastructure alternative, such as increasing the primary care physician access."
Bern says it’s becoming apparent that sufficient ED alternatives will not be in place in many parts of the U.S. in 2014 when the ranks of the insured expand.
"You have alternative sites of care being developed but there is not good information on what impact that will have," he says. "Those alternative sites of care include the retail clinics run by nurse practitioners, urgent care centers, and free-standing emergency departments that are popping up in different states. These may ultimately provide different sites of care when people are looking for care urgently but there is no consistent basis. If a patient wants to be sure that they are not going to be turned away the only sure bet they have is the emergency physicians who are under federal law to treat everybody regardless of their ability to pay."
The CDC report also noted that: