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Code blue

Science | Emergency workers say more people are using the ER since Obamacare took effect

Issue: "2014 Books Issue," June 28, 2014

The newest emergency in the emergency room may not be a health ailment. It may be the number of patients. In May the American College of Emergency Physicians published a poll indicating nearly half of ER workers—46 percent—had seen an increase in patients since Jan. 1, when the Affordable Care Act went into full effect. Another quarter said their patient load had remained about the same. Nearly nine out of 10 said they expected the number of ER patients to increase over the next three years, and eight out of 10 believe their department isn’t equipped to handle the surge.

When Democrats promoted Obamacare, they said the law would help drive down healthcare costs by increasing visits to primary care doctors and reducing expensive ER visits. Instead, the opposite appears to be happening.

“Emergency visits will increase in large part because more people will have health insurance and therefore will be seeking medical care,” said Alex Rosenau, the president of ACEP. But he also pointed to a nationwide shortage of primary care doctors. “When people can’t get appointments with physicians, they will seek care in emergency departments.”

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The Obama administration says it’s too early to draw conclusions. It may be early, but the poll is consistent with a January study in Oregon that found patients newly enrolled in Medicaid became 20 percent more likely to use the ER.

Brain drain

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A study from German researchers is the first to show that viewing pornography could harm the brain by shrinking it and reducing neural activity. Writing online in JAMA Psychiatry last month, the researchers said MRI scans of 64 healthy men indicated the more pornography men reported viewing, the less gray matter they had in a region of the brain associated with reward and motivation. Hours of porn consumption also correlated with less responsive activity in another brain region that normally lights up in response to sexual stimuli. —D.J.D.

By the numbers

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27 percent: Increase in euthanasia deaths in Belgium last year, where it has been legal to end the lives of patients with incurable and “unbearable physical or mental suffering” since 2002. The western European nation tallied 1,816 euthanasia cases in 2013, up from 1,432 in 2012. Belgian lawmakers voted to allow euthanasia for children under 12 earlier this year.

26.6 births: Per 1,000 U.S. teenage girls, according to preliminary government data for 2013. The birthrate for teens ages 15 to 19 dropped 10 percent last year to the lowest since record keeping began in 1940 (when teen marriages were more common). The country’s general fertility rate for all ages dropped to a record low of 62.9 births per 1,000 women—but four out of 10 babies are still born to unmarried mothers. Happily, the abortion rate is declining as well. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

2.1 billion: Number of “overweight” or “obese” people around the world—29 percent of the global population—according to a study said to be the most comprehensive to date. Researchers said the prevalence of obesity has increased since 1980, including in developing countries. In Tonga, for example, more than half of men and women are obese. Some have criticized the standard measurement, the body mass index, as simplistic. (The Lancet) —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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