There's obviously tons of debate about the new ACA health care law, single payer, pre-existing conditions, what insurance companies can cover and all of that.
But to me there are some very simple steps to take in the right direction regardless of ACA or single payer or continuing what we have now.
The first question I'd ask anyone on the groups here is if something sudden happened to you or a loved one at 2AM on a Sunday morning, where do you go? For almost anyone the answer is going to be the hospital emergency room, but in most cases this is going to be a really ugly and least desirable alternative. There will be a wait - if you're not insured you might not get in at all and if you are insured, even something simple will cost you thousands of dollars.
So the best way to avoid the run to the emergency room is to have known alternatives which might be
1. 24-7 urgent care
2. 24 hour free clinics
3. PAs who are willing to see patients after hours
I'm even finding that in most cases, if something happens during normal hours say 2PM on Tuesday, a person would have no idea where to go. Most people these days don't have a regular family doctor and even if you do, seeing that doctor generally requires an appointment. So then you have the same alternatives you have above plus all urgent care.
So I have some suggestions:
1. If you're insured, any insurer should provide you with a list of who you can see if it's after hours and who you can see if it's during the day and the situation requires immediate treatment. I've been insured for years and I've never seen that!! You get an endlessly long list of available doctors and their specialties, but they assume you'll make your appointment for 3 weeks out and you can wait. Insurance information is not geared in any way to help you if you need help now.
2. If you're not insured, you should also get the same information!! There should be a well publicized website for that!! Urgent care is ruthless about requiring full payment up-front, but most people will find 200 dollars in a hurry if you need it. And even if I'm making minimum wage, 200 dollars would fly out of my pocket if I could avoid the wait and cost associated with the emergency room. If there's an open free clinic near you, it's nice to know where it is.
3. Preventative care (physicals) should be free and available to anyone - and you should get reminders to do it if you haven't. As a taxpayer I'm more than willing to help out because I'll save money on that on the expenses I won't have covering someone that didn't catch a much worse problem.
Just a couple other suggestions while I'm at it:
1. Customer service really is important. The front desk should say "I'll be right with you" like they mean it not like they just stepped in something ugly because you're standing in front of them. And limit waiting in the little room in the back with the germ-killing icy air and tongue depressors to 5 minutes or less.
2. Just to augment my above points - the orientation of any clinic or urgent care should be to let people know you're there and when.
It's my contention that if someone in a tight situation (kid falls and need stitches, you're not sure if you're having a heart attack or not, your baby doesn't seem to be getting better and it's very late), it should be a no-brainer on where to go and it shouldn't be the emergency room at the hospital. Better information and some preparation on the part of us who might need medical care goes a long way.