Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Medicine

In the midst of the economic meltdown, overburdened ERs continue to serve as an unintended safety net.  Since hospitals are required by law to provide emergency care regardless of a patient's ability to pay, many individuals who have lost their jobs or seen their health insurance evaporate in recent months turn to the ER as their only place to see a doctor.  Some reports have shown increases in ER use by the newly-uninsured, while others anticipate brewing storm as (mainly older) patients with complex and expensive illnesses forgo prescription medications or necessary procedures to save money today, but end up needing more expensive emergency care when they decompensate in the future.  

The New York Times recently took a look at a group of 20-somethings, dubbed "invincibles," who are forced to make some difficult choices about their health care: "They borrow leftover prescription drugs from friends, attempt to self-diagnose ailments online, stretch their diabetes and asthma medicines for as long as possible and set their own broken bones" because "when emergencies strike, they can rarely afford the bills that follow."  Unlike their older relatives, these younger adults are not eligible for Medicare and make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.  As these tough times continue, expect to see more and more people lined up outside the ER.

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