Sacramento County residents visit emergency rooms at a much higher - and growing - rate than the rest of California, new state figures show.
A high number of emergency room visits can lead to increased wait times or, if many patients are uninsured or underinsured, increased health care costs.
Some area hospitals have responded to the influx by establishing programs designed to funnel patients with minor ailments to community clinics. Others have introduced novel tools like allowing ER patients to check in online before coming to the hospital.
Sacramento County residents made about 525,000 visits to the emergency room in 2014, up 10 percent from 2013, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. Emergency room visits by Sacramento County residents have grown by more than 80 percent during the last decade.
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Those figures translated to 3.6 emergency room visits per 10 Sacramento County residents last year, 20 percent higher than the statewide rate. Among the 15 largest counties in California, only Fresno County had a higher rate of ER visits in 2014.
ER Visits rose between 5 percent and 7 percent in Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties. Visits rose 6 percent statewide.
Economically disadvantaged patients are driving the increase. The Affordable Care Act last year greatly expanded the number of Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for the poor. Sacramento County patients used Medi-Cal to pay for roughly 222,000 ER visits in 2014, up by more than 60,000, or 40 percent, from 2013. The number of visits by Sacramento County patients without insurance fell by roughly 20,000.
Patient advocates and some hospital officials have said Medi-Cal reimbursement rates - recently cut by 10 percent - are pushing poor people into ERs. When doctors refuse to take Medi-Cal patients due to financial considerations, those patients sometimes end up in emergency rooms.
Source: Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development