Community health centers seen as key to reducing emergency room cost

The overuse of emergency rooms contributes greatly to the nation's high healthcare costs. The problem is expected to worsen in the short-term under Democrats' healthcare reform law because the Congressional Budget Office estimates that gaining insurance increases people's demand for healthcare services by about 40 percent.

Use of emergency room services per person increased by 11 percent in the decade ending in 2007, GAO said. Of the 117 million visits that year, about 8 percent were classified as nonurgent.

The report goes on to describe challenges the health centers face in putting their strategies in place. These include: a lack of reimbursement for case managers who coordinate care; the difficulty in getting patients to change their behavior with regard to emergency room use; and challenges to recruiting health providers to serve health center patients.