Washington state sued over limits on Medicaid emergency-room visits

Emergency physicians filed suit Friday to block the state of Washington's plans to limit Medicaid beneficiaries to three "non-emergency" visits to emergency departments per year.

Like other states, cash-strapped Washington is seeking ways to keep its exploding Medicaid costs under control. Physicians, however, say the new restrictions that are slated to kick in Saturday would harm patients by categorizing more than 700 diagnoses — including chest pain, abdominal pain, miscarriage and breathing problems — as "non-emergent." 

"This list of non-emergent diagnoses puts patients in danger and unfairly targets the poor and those in most need of care," Stephen Anderson, president of the Washington Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in a statement. "We understand that our state Medicaid office is working with 19 other states to develop this policy. If this plan goes into effect, other states will certainly follow suit."

The suit in particular argues that the state didn't seek stakeholder comments before forcing its plan on hospitals and other providers and failed to meet requirements set forth by the State Legislature.