U.S. Lags in After-Hours Healthcare Access

Jonathon Cohn writes today in The New Republic that the USA lags behind many countries in after-hours healthcare access. He suggests that “market forces” could be applied to help solve this problem. He suggests that after-hours urgent care may be “a great business opportunity.” He suggests that “government can also encourage this development with financial incentives, like boosting what Medicare and Medicaid pay for primary care (which the Affordable Care Act does very modestly).”

According to a 2007 survey 76% of Americans reported that they found access to after-hours healthcare to be very or somewhat difficult. That was the worst report of the seven nations surveyed.

Cohn, also, notes that the reason that the Netherlands appears to have the best access among countries surveyed is likely because the country has intentionally created “coverage networks for after-hours care.”This poor access to after-hours care seems to indicate that this dissatisfaction with access to healthcare in the USA is likely to continue to fuel the growth of the urgent care industry.

On a side note, one reader responded by claiming that for-profit healthcare was the problem, not the solution.  On a recent urgent care visit, he observed the clinic receptionist ask for the patient’s insurance card. When the mother said, “I don’t have insurance. Can I pay to see the doctor?” The employee said, ‘I’m sorry, without insurance, we can’t see your child–you’ll have to go to Emergency at a hospital.”

Of course, this reader’s tale seemed extremely far fetched, as cash is the proverbial king; and almost no urgent care will turn down a patient who will pay cash. In fact, most urgent care centers would prefer to avoid the costs, denials, red tape and delays of healthcare insurers. Almost all urgent care centers would much rather do business on a cash basis.

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