Who really visits the emergency room?

07/15/2010 2:08 PM

12/13/2010 9:35 AM

Mercy Medical Center's emergency room sees a lot of people coming through its doors. But despite what some people think, those visits aren't by undocumented immigrants.

According to Mercy, less than one percent of emergency room visits are by undocumented immigrants. The breakdown is about 50 percent Medi-Cal, 25 percent Medicare, and the rest is split between private insurance, private pay and the uninsured.

Although the hospital is forbidden by law to ask if a person is here legally, they do find out after the fact. They also cannot triage people and send them to an urgent care. By law, the emergency room must see anyone who comes in, they cannot turn them away for any reason. They can get big fines from the government if this happens.

As I wrote in my article, Medi-Cal patients make up about 27 percent of the county's population, but account for about 50 percent of ER visits. Educating patients seems to be the best bet, but it has to be done before they get to the emergency room. That's why Alliance, the Medi-Cal HMO in the area, is working hard to give both doctors and patients incentives to stay away from the emergency room unless it is a true emergency.

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