The stereotypical image of a crowded Massachusetts hospital emergency room is one packed with welfare recipients or immigrants who get free health care, so they don't care about the astronomical cost to the taxpayer and the system. Ever been to St. Luke's or Charlton on a Friday night?

The truth of the matter may come as a surprise to many. The State House News Service reports "one out of every three Massachusetts residents who get health insurance through their employer reported making their last visit to an emergency room for a condition that wasn't actually an emergency."

According to the SHNS report, "Health Policy Commission Executive Director David Seltz said 71.6 percent were for care needed outside of a doctor's office's normal operating hours, and 62.3 percent were because the respondent couldn't get an appointment with a doctor soon enough." Emergency room visits cost even insured patients considerably more out of pocket than a visit to the doctor's office or an urgent care facility.

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New research on the matter comes as lawmakers and the state's community hospitals continue to look for ways to rein in exploding health care costs.

A big part of the problem is that medical care cannot be easily found anywhere other than the emergency room outside of the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. business cycle or on weekends, leaving consumers with limited options. In addition, there are far too many referrals to specialists these days for matters that were once handled by general practitioners. This creates a backlog.

Our medical system is not user-friendly. We've become a 24/7 society yet our medical system still operates on banker's hours. Medical care should be available in non-hospital settings at night and on the weekends. Pharmacies do it.

Expanding access to medical care would go a long way toward resolving the emergency room crunch and would help to stem the rising cost of more expensive health care.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 

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