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Editorial: Patients' overuse of ERs increases costs

Nov. 23, 2012 @ 11:57 PM

Most of us think of the hospital emergency room as a place we might visit only a few times in our life -- and hopefully never.

We visit our doctors, dentists and eye-care specialists regularly, and they help guide us to specialists or other services we might need.

But as the public and the health-care industry drill into the rising cost of health care, one thing becomes clear -- many people do not access health care that way. When something goes wrong they go to the emergency room. It is not always an insurance issue, because many of these patients have Medicaid or Medicare. They simply do not have a regular doctor or clinic overseeing their health care.

The Charleston Gazette recently reported the results of a study at Charleston Area Medical Center about their most frequent visitors to the ER, and the results underscore the problem.

One patient visited Charleston Memorial's ER 108 times in 180 days, and Medicare paid all the bills. A Medicaid patient visited Charleston General's emergency room 50 times in six months, and Medicaid paid all the bills. In fact, the 36 most frequent visitors made 978 ER visits in six months.

What industry experts know is that is that the ER is by far the most expensive place to deliver this type of care. The average visit at a CAMC emergency room costs the hospital about $750, and those 978 visits contributed to an estimated $500,000 in unpaid care, the Gazette reported.

The survey in Charleston just shows the tip of the iceberg in West Virginia and across the country. Whatever one's position on health-care reform, it is clear that states and local health-care providers need work together to reduce these extra costs.

In the end, we all foot the bill.

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