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Emergency care does not equal health care

The Incidental Economist blog has been doing a great series on meme-busting– debunking myths that permeate our health care debate, even when evidence shows them to be false. Yesterday they took on the notion that we have universal coverage because everyone can go to the emergency room. They write that while it’s true no one can be denied emergency care, that’s not the same thing as necessary care:

Over 25 million people in the United States have diabetes, requiring regular access to medication to stay alive. They can’t get insulin in an emergency room. They can’t get needed eye exams or kidney function tests in the emergency room. They can’t get a checkup in the emergency room. But once they go into hypoglycemic shock or once their feet become gangrenous, then they can get examined and treated. Does that sound like access to health care?

About 20 million people in the United States have asthma. They can’t get their prescription refills in an emergency room. They can’t get the equipment then need, like nebulizers or inhalers or spacers in an emergency room. They also can’t get checkups in an emergency room. Once they have an attack so bad that they could die they can get examined and treated, but that’s not access to health care.

Over 200,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Not a single one of them could get a mammogram in an emergency room. Over 140,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2010. Not a single one of them could get a colonoscopy in the emergency room.

Nearly one in 100 children have Autism, and not a single one of them can get any treatment at all in the emergency room. […]

Emergency care is important, but it’s not the same thing as health care.

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