Washington State Limits ER Trips

The American College of Emergency Physicians is suing the state of Washington over its new policy of paying for only three non-emergency trips to the emergency room per year for low-income Medicaid patients.

| October 03, 2011
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The American College of Emergency Physicians is suing the state of Washington over its new policy of paying for only three non-emergency trips to the emergency room per year for low-income Medicaid patients, ABC News reports.

The state has defined 700 symptoms as non-emergencies, including difficulty breathing, dizziness, early-pregnancy hemorrhage, gall stones, abdominal pains and chest pains not related to a heart attack, ABC News reports. Patients with these symptoms should visit a regular doctor's office instead, the state suggests.

"The ACEP is opposing the limit primarily because of the list of diagnoses that the state is proposing to be non-emergencies, like chest pains and heart arrhythmias and dysrhythmias, which can result in sudden death, sudden blindness, and hemorrhages during miscarriage," ACEP Washington Chapter Pesident Steve Anderson told ABC News.

The change, which went into effect on Oct. 1, is aimed at reducing costs from overuse of the E.R., The Associated Press reports. The Legislature expects the state to save $35 million a year with the new limits.

Dr. Nathan Schlicher at Saint Joseph Hospital in Seattle told 97.3 KIRO FM that a three-visit limit could make some people sicker and increase health care costs in the long term because many of the conditions on the list are tip-offs to serious problems. "There's chest pain on this list, there's issues of kidney stones, there's hemorrhage and pregnancy, a threatened miscarriage," Schlicher said.

The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA), and the Washington Chapter of the Academy of Emergency Physicians (WCAEP) have released statements saying they object to the change, ABC News reports.

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