President Obama promises to overhaul the health-care system. One area that needs attention is emergency care.
Go to most any emergency room and you will be treated -- even if you don't have money and even if it's not an emergency.
That's a problem for doctors as well as for patients with real emergencies.
When Sam was in a Chicago emergency room, he agreed to participate in a study about the effects of homelessness on the healthcare system.
"I said I only had my truck and that was it," Sam said.
He was one of 400 participants studied by Doctors Laura Sadowski and Romina Kee
Three and a half million people in the United States are homeless. Many have common conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But with little access to regular health care, they often are treated in emergency rooms.
In the study, some of the participants were given housing and met regularly with case workers. That intervention led to 24 percent fewer trips to the emergency room than the participants who remained homeless, and 29 percent fewer hospitalizations. The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Homelessness is common in our society. Homelessness is a burden not only on the individuals, but also on the communities in which the individuals live," Kee said.
Next researchers will conduct a cost-benefit analysis to check the economic feasibility of the assistance program used in the study.