Nevada Health Insurance Quandry

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Nearly one in five Nevadans have no health insurance, and hospital emergency rooms are filling up as a result, officials said.

Bill Welch, president and chief executive officer of the Nevada Hospital Association, said Las Vegas emergency rooms are becoming packed with the uninsured and the problem is spreading to Reno.

"The hospital ERs are becoming the primary care provider for many, if not most, of the uninsured population," Welch said.

Some people have no insurance to treat a problem when it's less serious, so they wait until the condition becomes a crisis, he said.

More than half of the 520,000 emergency room cases in Nevada last year were not emergencies, Welch said.

No breakdown was available for how many of the emergency room cases involved uninsured patients.

The hospital association is calling for steps to reduce the number of uninsured people using hospital emergency rooms as their main source of treatment.

"A system ultimately is going to have to be developed that provides some medical benefits for this population that will allow them to access health care in the non-ER setting, unless it is an emergency need," Welch said.