One primary goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was to expand access to affordable health care. However, in the five years since the ACA’s passage, we have found that while more people have health insurance, they do not necessarily have access to affordable health care.
In order to pay for the subsidies that have facilitated the expansion of health insurance coverage, many recipients of federal funds were forced to accept payment reductions. Hospitals were faced with cuts of $260 billion over ten years. These reductions came in the form of delayed payment updates for Medicare hospital services and reduced Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments meant to compensate hospitals for treating a high percentage of patients for whom the hospital is often inadequately reimbursed. The justification for the cuts to hospital payments was based on assumptions that, by increasing insurance coverage to millions of people, fewer individuals would go to the emergency room (ER) to receive care—where they would potentially be treated for free subject to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA)—and instead could seek care in non-hospital settings such as physician offices, outpatient clinics, urgent care centers, etc.