Monday, January 02, 2006

A potentially devastating problem

According to a new study by University of South Florida researchers, Florida emergency rooms are in jeopardy of closing their doors.

The study is blaming an increased number of uninsured and under- insured people moving into the state.

The hustle and bustle inside the Manatee Memorial emergency room is non-stop and while the volume won't be slowing anytime soon, the compensation for doctors who treat uninsured patients is.

"The physicians that see those patients are uncompensated for the care that they provide to those patients," past Chief of Staff Dr. Thomas Braxtan said.

That's because more than half of all emergency room patients in the hospital do not have insurance.

"The emergency room at Manatee Memorial Hospital is directly threatened by the crisis," Braxtan said.

As a result, local hospitals are losing surgeons and stand to lose entire surgical departments.

Hospitals like Manatee Memorial said they're having a hard time filling the parking spaces with physicians because many candidates choose not to work in an area where they won't be fully compensated for their services.

However, there are medical facilities in the county geared toward those who cannot afford insurance.

Manatee County Rural Health Services provides care on a sliding pay scale, meaning patients pay only what they can afford.

"We see patients on an appointment basis," Medical Director Dr. George Van Buren said. "Although we do understand there are some emergencies or urgencies, we do have a system in place to take care of people who come in on a same day or urgent basis."

Medical professionals encourage patients to seek medical care at the rural health services rather than the ER for less urgent matters.

"Certainly the care in the community is going to be substantially diminished so that even patients who can afford to pay for services will no longer have access to those services," Braxtan said.

Right now, almost half of all emergency physician care is entirely uncompensated. An emergency room visit typically costs between $300 to $400. A visit to rural health services costs about $40, which is a small fraction of the ER visit.

Last year, almost 180,000 people utilized rural health services in the county


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