Take a Seat, the Doctor Will See You Shortly

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The latest action by Virginia hospitals is sheer chutzpah.

The 2020 General Assembly adopted actions aimed to reduce state Medicaid payments for emergency room services later deemed to be unnecessary. As described by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the aim was to discourage Medicaid recipients from unnecessary use of emergency departments instead of seeking care from their doctors or urgent care centers. “They should talk to their primary care physician,” said Del. Mark Sickles (D., Fairfax), chairman of the House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee and vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association has sued. The suit filed in federal court claims that the budget cuts enacted along with the provisions regarding emergency rooms “will cause irreparable harm not only to needy patient populations, but to hospitals and physicians” which are struggling as a result of the challenges posed by the pandemic.

According to the RTD, the hospitals acknowledge the need to reduce unnecessary use of emergency rooms for conditions that could be treated more efficiently and less expensively elsewhere. However, and this is where the chutzpah comes in, they lament that they have no choice under law but to treat Medicaid patients that show up at emergency rooms for treatment.

That is true; they are required to treat whoever shows up. But, they are not required to blanket the landscape with huge billboards advertising short wait times in their emergency rooms. It does not take a genius to figure out which facility that a mother with a feverish, cranky kid is going to choose: an urgent care center where she may have to wait 30 minutes or an emergency room that advertises in three-foot tall red lights a wait time of 13 minutes.

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