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ER Use Remains Steady in Kentucky

A report finds that emergency room use in Kentucky is not decreasing under the Affordable Care Act, largely due to cultural norms and a growing opioid addiction problem. (PresidenciadeRepublica/flickr.com)
A report finds that emergency room use in Kentucky is not decreasing under the Affordable Care Act, largely due to cultural norms and a growing opioid addiction problem. (PresidenciadeRepublica/flickr.com)
March 20, 2017

LEXINGTON, Ky. — One of the projected benefits of the Affordable Care Act was a decreased demand on emergency rooms in states like Kentucky. But three years after the ACA was implemented, the number of visits remains generally the same.

That is according to a new report from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. While their findings may be disappointing to some, Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation, said old habits can die hard.

"I think it's a little bit of a cultural thing in Kentucky, to begin with,” Chandler said. "I think it takes a little time though to get people out of their normal patterns."

He added that increased incidences of opioid use and overdoses also are believed to have increased the number of ER visits in recent years.

The report did find that the proportion of emergency room visits reported by hospitals as charity care or self-pay dropped from 23 percent in 2012 to less than 6 percent by the end of 2016. The reduction of uncompensated care has lightened the financial burden on the state's hospitals.

Chandler said if the Congressional Budget Office's analysis is right, the loss of health coverage for thousands in the Bluegrass State won't make the shift away from emergency care any easier.

"That will be a problem as far as ER use is concerned and many other things,” he said. "When you have insurance, you're going to be more likely to get care the right way."

Chandler and other medical experts urge citizens to seek preventive care from a doctor, or in more acute illnesses, urgent care, before visiting the ER where visits can be costly and the demand detracts from life threatening emergencies.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - KY