Contrary to what former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean says ("Dean warns GOP on Obama health plan," Page 1, Tuesday), President Obama's plan for health care reform will not be "perfect" unless it addresses the needs of the million Americans who seek emergency care each year. The president's plan does not even address America's struggling emergency departments.
We cannot have a complete conversation about health care reform without focusing on the need to shore up emergency departments across this country. They are vastly overcrowded and have provided too few mandates and too few resources. The problem is only getting worse as this economic crisis deepens.
The number of emergency visits had increased by 32 percent (from 90.3 million up to 119.2 million) between 1996 and 2006, while the number of emergency departments had decreased by 5 percent, leaving fewer emergency departments left to serve a larger volume of patients. This lack of resources contributes to overcrowding and threatens access to life-saving emergency care for everyone - insured and uninsured.
Emergency departments are the safety net of the nation's health care system. That is even more evident now during this struggling economy. When people lose their jobs and their health insurance, they rely on the emergency department because they know they won't be turned away, which happens today at other health-care facilities.
We urge Mr. Obama and Congress not to turn their backs on emergency patients. We also urge Congress to hold hearings on the state of emergency medicine. Unless the government takes action, more emergency departments will close, and with America's growing elderly population, many patients may not be able to get the care they need and deserve - and that very easily could be you or your own family.
DR. NICK JOURILES
American College of Emergency Physicians
Chagrin Falls, Ohio