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Is emergency room care actually a great deal?

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Health care delivered in the emergency room is often derided as expensive and inefficient, the source of our health spending woes. Physician Robert O’Connor has a different way to describe emergency medicine: An incredibly good deal.

O’Connor chairs the department of emergency medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. As an emergency room doctor, he is not unbiased in defending the work he and his colleagues do. He’s also pretty tired of all the rhetoric about emergency rooms as the health spending culprit.

He says that ERs only account for 2 percent of all health care spending—and argues that patients actually get tons of bang for their buck.

“It represents a remarkable value that we have this service available at all times, in all parts of the country, for every citizen,” he told reporters during a press conference at the Association of Emergency Care Physicians’ annual meeting.

That 2 percent figure comes from the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey, a large-scale federal survey of patients and doctors’ health care spending. It found that Americans spent $51.1 billion on emergency care in 2009. O’Connor estimates that’s 2 percent of the $2.4 trillion spent on health care annually.

The MEPS data only covers $1.2 trillion of health care spending; it excludes any health spending that isn’t a direct payment to a provider (administrative costs, for example) as well as services of dentists, optometrists and some other doctors.

To compare apples to apples, it’s probably better to use the MEPS denominator for overall health spending. Even using that, emergency department spending only comes out to 4 percent of the nation’s health care bill.

via Is emergency room care actually a great deal?.

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