"The status quo cannot continue," she said. "The system is unsustainable in terms of the escalating costs ... not only of health care, but also health insurance."
Pelosi's visit to one of Philadelphia's largest teaching hospitals came a day after President Barack Obama blanketed national news shows to garner public support of his health care plan.
Dr. Bernard Lopez, an emergency department physician at Jefferson, said a quarter of the 60,000 patients who come through the emergency room have substandard or no health insurance.
"Patients with little to no insurance can't see a primary care physician. ... They wait, they don't get care" until their health problem becomes dire, he said.
"The use of our emergency room for primary care puts a strain on us, puts a strain on the system."
Among those who spoke with Pelosi was Margie Salvante, a small-business owner who was unable to get her 11-year-old son, Brian, treatment for an eye movement disorder that she said is completely correctable with therapy.
The condition makes it difficult for Brian to read, she said, a factor that affects his performance at school and may prevent him from reaching his potential.