Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Free Health Care Starts With 9-1-1

Anybody can suffer a medical emergency. It can happen anytime, anywhere, in the most unexpected fashion. That is why we have developed the 911 system so that people can summon for help during a life threatening situation. Yet, because of the convenience of 911, the emergency response team is being sorely abused.

In an article in the L.A. Times today, they document the rampant misuse of 911. Starting off the the lead paragraphs, they write about a person who activated 911 because he needed his gout medicines refilled at a local clinic. When the clinic wouldn't take him because his insurance didn't provide coverage there, he called 911. The paramedics dutifully arrived at the scene where the patient was sitting comfortably in his wheelchair waiting for them. After they checked out his vital signs to make sure he was stable, they transported him to the nearest emergency room. What else are EMT's supposed to do? They're not doctors. That's their job.

Another time, a motel owner called 911 and reported that somebody was shot. When the emergency team arrived, they found that the owner had called for help because he couldn't get one of the boarders to pay and wanted him evicted. The room occupier indeed was shot, nine days before. The person gladly accepted EMT's ride to the ER so that he could get his first physical exam since he was discharged from the hospital.

Los Angeles County received over 543,000 emergency calls in 2010. Most of the calls were not real emergencies. People have called 911 because their babies were crying all night, or they had insomnia, or they just needed medical transportation. The beauty of this system is that it is the responsibility of the paramedics to take the patient to the ER if the patient requests it. They are not physicians who can diagnose an illness and decide if an ER visit is warranted. Many people don't have health insurance so they'll get the ambulance ride for free on the taxpayers' dime. By contrast, if they had called for a taxi, they would have to pay real money before anybody will take them anywhere.

Once the person gets to the ER, they again will get free health care. Thanks to EMTALA, everybody who gets inside the ER door is automatically treated, whether they can pay for it or not. See what a great system we have in the U.S.? Who says we don't have universal healthcare in this country.

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