Patients without insurance crashing ERs


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People are waiting to go to the doctor until they are desperately sick.

Valley Medical Center is ground zero for treating the medically uninsured in Santa Clara County. About 30 percent of the patients who go there have absolutely no medical insurance. That is a problem for them and for taxpayers.

The medically uninsured are everywhere. They include mother Jamey, Michael and Hudson who lost his job in construction and battles a blood disorder that has him on crutches.

"Once the iron starts building up in my system it starts to go to my joints and starts flaring up, which causes gout," Hudson Celestino explained.

When Hudson and others like him have an emergency they are treated for free at the emergency department at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. The numbers there are soaring. VMC expects 830,000 patient visits this coming fiscal year. That is a 45-percent increase in volume since 2000 and a 22-percent increase in the last six months.

"What we're seeing is more people who have lost their insurance, lost their jobs and are really deferring basic health care services until they become unmanageable and then they present to the emergency department for care," said Kim Roberts, CEO of Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System.

Santa Clara County already spends nearly $2 billion every year on health care services and now faces more than $1 million in cuts. The county says its children's health initiative proves that better primary coverage reduces overall health care costs.

"A single emergency room visit is over $1,000 and for that same $1,000, for a year, you can cover a kid for comprehensive medical care, dental and vision care," said Dr. Lily Boris with Santa Clara Family Health Plan.

For uninsured people like Danielle Martorell's parents, getting non-emergency health care service is a sacrifice many are not willing to make.

"It's very hard trying to figure out how I'm going to be able to pay for all of this and everything. It's extremely hard," Martorell told ABC 7.

As demand for services increases and funding decreases the county anticipates deep cuts in alcohol, drug and mental health services. They hope to avoid any cuts to services for the uninsured needing emergency medical care.

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