ER Wait Times in California Are So Bad That Some People Are Just Giving Up

Splinter – by Libby Watson

If you live in California, you have something else to worry about in addition to your rent being too high and your house possibly burning down: long wait times and overcrowding at the emergency room.

According to new data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development reported by Kaiser Health News, the number of trips to the ER in the state grew 20 percent from 2012 to 2017. The wait time for patients who are admitted as inpatients is up to five and a half hours, a 15 minute increase over 2012. More startling, however, is that the number of people leaving the ER before the doctor was done treating them has risen 57 percent since 2012. 

Kaiser reported that California patients who leave before their care is complete are more likely to be uninsured or on Medi-Cal, the California Medicaid program. Fresno County, which has the highest poverty rate in California, had the highest rate of patients leaving the ER, at more than 5 percent.

Sometimes, even patients who leave the ER because they can’t afford the care end up with a big bill. Last year, Vox reported on the case of a woman who received an ice pack from an ER after falling and hitting her head, then left because the plastic surgeon who would have treated her was out-of-network—the usual cause of surprise medical bills. Yet she still received a bill for $5,751.

In the recent House Rules Committee hearing on Medicare for All, emergency room doctor Dr. Farzon Nahvi testified that he has patients who “walk out Against Medical Advice out of concern for the cost of their treatment.” He told the story of one appendicitis patient who asked to be given antibiotics and discharged because of the cost:

I told her about the possibility of a perforation of her bowels, an abscess formation, sepsis from her infection, and even death. This wasn’t an exaggeration, this was the truth. She sat back, asked for some time, thought about it for a long while but she eventually did decide to leave. In her own words she said, “Thanks doc, I appreciate all you’ve done, but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to afford this — I’m going to take my chances.”

The specter of lines around the block and people waiting forever to see the doctor is frequently used to criticize single-payer plans. The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a healthcare industry-backed lobbying group, frequently talks about the wait times under single-payer.

This has always been bunk—as Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote in 2014, “most research doesn’t suggest any particular relationship between the financing model [of healthcare] and how tough it is to see a doctor.” In the UK, she pointed out, it’s easier to get a same-day appointment to see a doctor than in the U.S.

But it’s especially galling to see the healthcare industry make this argument when wait times are already so bad in America, especially for the poor. And, of course, measuring wait times at the ER or the doctor’s office doesn’t tell you how many people delay or never seek care because of cost, which is a problem that essentially doesn’t exist under healthcare systems that have no patient cost-sharing.

The anti-Medicare for All crowd might think fearmongering about wait times is a promising strategy, but they might find it falls on deaf ears when so many people already experience inexcusable waits for care—whether that’s at the ER, their doctor’s office, or because they just can’t afford it.

9 thoughts on “ER Wait Times in California Are So Bad That Some People Are Just Giving Up

  1. “The wait time for patients who are admitted as inpatients is up to five and a half hours, a 15 minute increase over 2012.”

    And these ‘patients’ actually have insurance.

    That kind of wait time was typical of county hospitals in So. Cal back in the 80s & 90s (Harbor-UCLA Medical in particular… freakin’ nightmare at times).

    Damn computer froze after my 1st comment, it’s getting worse.

    1. I was born and raised in this state, while I was growing up in the 60s and 70s this state was awesome, has gone completely to hell, invaders get a pass? American Nationals wait in the ER. I’ve never had to wait in a fkg ER ever in Calif. Thank God I dont live there anymore. Nancy Cuntosi never has to wait either, bitch…

      My smart phone is acting crazy as well, only on this site. Today is the worst I’ve ever seen it.

      1. Actually, I was okay with CA UNTIL I woke up, Mark. I was fully immersed in my Christian walk, had a full-time job that was not going away by itself, and totally clueless as to what was REALLY going on in the rest of the world (let alone THIS country).

        Once TRUE reality kicked in, however, I couldn’t wait to get out of that hellhole – a total deathtrap.

        My family there has zero chance of surviving – they don’t even believe in owning guns… toast.

  2. Luckily, we have the funds to give Israel $10 million per day. Makes one feel warm and fuzzy and patriotic when you pay $5000 for an icepack

  3. Solution if you live in SoCal–get it done in MEXICO! For one thing, dental work in Mexico is as good or better than it is here, and sure as helluva lot cheaper (root canal here-$3,000…in Ojinaga, Mexico-$300.00!) I am sure Tijuana hospitals are at least as good as anything Kaiser-Permantente would deal with! And many of their employees do speak English. These facilities know just how much Americans would rather not spend themselves into bankruptcy, so they will hire anyone reasonably fluent in English. Besides, a lot of Mexicans we met on a vacation in Ensenada (100 miles south of Tijuana) are fluent in English…tourism and all that.

  4. my brother is vacationing out there. he’s in San Fran a few days. he sent me a real estate website pic of one of those cool townhouses on one of those cool hilly streets… they ranged from 479sqft to 501sqft… you know a big storage unit is 20ft x 20ft… that’s 400sqft.. 20frikin7hunerdfrikin dollars!! a big storage unit with a bathroom.. 2700$ a month rent. that’s one way to get rid of Po’ White Trash like me! hell, I’d be poopin’ in the street too! if i could afford to produce poop!! you can do the math anyway you like but you gotta BRING HOME 675$ a week to have a home. you would have to GROSS 24$/hr (minus 30% taxes) JUST to pay rent. nothing else! i make good money for me, where i live, what i need and what i want BUT the idea of HAVING TO pay 16$/hr just for rent!! i can’t comprehend. 2700$ a month here would be more house than i could maintain. i’d have close doors and vents to some of the rooms! reap what they sow.. it’s all coming to an end. nothing can maintain this pace very long. everyone here should live long enough to see it.. maybe except KOYOTE.. i think he’s a hunerd ‘n 4, so he probably won’t make it but his 27yo wife will!

    1. y’all ain’t gonna believe this!! my brother just returned from an Alcatraz tour.. he sent me a picture…. of the back window busted out of his frikin rental car!!! and just think, for only 2700$ a month, you too can live in glorious SAN FRANCISCO!! what a frikin mess! if this ain’t signs of the times, i sure don’t want to see when it really is! wanna bet that’s the one spot that ain’t got 50 frikin cameras on it!!?? unbelievable!

  5. “In the UK, she pointed out, it’s easier to get a same-day appointment to see a doctor than in the U.S.”

    Then why did Mick Jagger have to come to the US to get his heart stint surgery? Why do rich British and Canadian people come to the US for treatment? Another lying liar lying.

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