Crisis in America’s ERs


Whenever people talk about instituting a national health care system to the United States, opponents cry foul and fret about “waiting lists” and the like. Well, as it turns out, the health care system in France—which allows people to purchase private health care on top of a universal public insurance system—has no waiting lists. Neither does Germany, another national health care system. On the other hand, we certainly have waiting lists here in the United States:

Emergency medical care in the United States is on the verge of collapse, with the nation’s declining number of emergency rooms dangerously overcrowded and often unable to provide the expertise needed to treat seriously ill people in a safe and efficient manner.

That’s the grim conclusion of three reports released yesterday by the Institute of Medicine, the product of an extensive two-year look at emergency care.

Long waits for treatment are epidemic, the reports said, with ambulances sometimes idling for hours to unload patients. Once in the ER, patients sometimes wait up to two days to be admitted to a hospital bed.

This despite the fact that the United States pays more for health care than any other country in the world. (In fact, per capita the U.S. government alone spends more on public health care than countries with supposedly “socialized” systems—and that’s before all the private spending is included.) And yet the U.S. still endures waiting lists and rationing—not to mention the 46 million people who don’t have insurance at all.

In fact, the large number of uninsured people in this country contributes heavily to the hospital crisis—since the uninsured often can’t afford preventive care, they tend to wait until problems get really bad and require hospitalization, which then puts a burden on the emergency medical care system. (By law, emergency rooms must at the very least evaluate and stabilize everyone who comes in.) But for some reason we’re told we shouldn’t change anything. Right.

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