ERs now can turn away patients unable to pay, says the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week. An estimated one in five adults in Georgia receive the medical care they need through a hospital emergency room.
But that’s changed. Overcrowded conditions and too many patients who can’t pay their bills have caused Georgia hospitals to begin restricting access to emergency services for the uninsured. Emergency room patients in Georgia who are screened and not in need of immediate medical care will be denied treatment unless they pay a deposit or co-payment on insurance.
Is this legal? Yes. Federal law requires only that hospitals conduct a medical screening on all incoming ER patients, and treat only those whose conditions are serious and in need of immediate care. ERs are not required by law to treat uninsured patients who do not need urgent care. Those people will be directed elsewhere.
But where is “elsewhere?” Nowhere, in Georgia. A statewide coalition of free clinics asked for a one-time grant of $2 million to expand services and hours at the last Georgia General Assembly, but the Legislature said “no” to providing the funds. County health departments are limited in the services they can provide. Now, even those county health departments that do provide some basic primary-care services such as diabetes monitoring and immunizations are chronically underfunded.
What could be a result of this decision? If hospitals demand upfront payment from those who are not deemed emergencies, health advocates fear that those who are uninsured will give up, and their condition will most likely decline.
At the Law Offices of Michael L. Neff, we care about all Georgians who need health care. We believe there must be a solution. What do you think, Atlanta? Do you have a solution