Sacramento hospitals seeing spike in ER visits by uninsured patients

Local emergency rooms are seeing a big spike in patients without health insurance, increasing waiting times and costs for everyone, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state and national health data.

Among those patients is Shannon Zeitler, who lost her medical insurance when she lost her marriage. She recently went to UC Davis Medical Center for help controlling her seizures. There was no urgency for her visit, she conceded, but she had little choice.

"I was so under stress. I knew I needed to get some medicine in me," she said "I had no doctor. I'm $7,000 in the hole now."

Emergency room visits by uninsured patients like Zeitler have surged more than 25 percent across the capital region since the recession began, The Bee found, based on its review of forms hospitals file with the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

During the first six months of 2008, about 35,000 ER patients in the four-county region told their hospital they would try to pay the bills themselves. During the same time frame this year, that number rose to 44,000.

Total ER visits by the insured and uninsured also have risen, but not as sharply.

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