Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was intended to provide more Americans with affordable health insurance and better healthcare services, the recent and sudden rise of urgent care centers in the U.S. is a clear indication that the ACA may actually be causing more financial problems than it’s solving.
An increase in urgent care centers certainly isn’t a bad thing. The average hospital emergency room visit costs about $1,500, the average urgent care visit costs about $150, and up to roughly one-fourth of all ER visits could be handled at an urgent care clinic — considering these statistics, the Nashville Business Journal notes, the American healthcare system could save an estimated $4.4 billion annually if more patients sought treatment at an urgent care clinic when appropriate.
Although this potential savings is most often noted when healthcare officials and politicians brainstorm ways to provide better medical services for low-income families, the New York Times notes that patients all over the country could benefit from lower medical bills — ironically because of higher doctors’ fees that have resulted from the ACA.
“Patients around the country are getting [an] unpleasant surprise,” the Times states, “as more and more doctors’ offices are being bought by hospitals.”
According to the Times, under the ACA, Medicare (a government-funded heath insurance program that assists seniors over 65 and anyone with a disability) pays more money to doctors who work under larger healthcare systems, like hospitals, and less money to independent practices — for the exact same treatment.
The Obama administration has reportedly expressed a concern over this payment, which has caused more doctors to abandon their private practices and instead work under a larger system, ultimately resulting in higher bills for their patients. A proposed change in policy isn’t likely to be welcomed by doctors and hospitals, the Times notes, because neither group will profit much from the change (unlike patients, who would end up paying much less for medical treatment in many cases).
Until this change is made — if it’s made at all — it’s clear that urgent care centers may be the best way to provide essential medical treatment at an affordable cost.