New report documents surge in emergency room visits by Medicaid patients

Emergency room visits increased at twice the rate of growth of the American population between 1997 and 2007, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Medicaid patients, the study points out, account for "a large proportion of the increase." That's an important reminder that the healthcare reform law's expansion of Medicaid coverage to 15 million more Americans by 2019 is not a guarantee that they'll have access to care.

"Medicaid pays so poorly in many states that physicians limit the number of Medicaid patients they will see," said Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "When these patients get sick but can't get in to see a physician, they often wait until an illness has worsened to the point that they need care in an emergency department. This is important to remember, especially as the nation implements the new healthcare reform law. Health plans must provide fair payment for services, or patients will suffer."