APPARENTLY, WE ALREADY HAVE UNIVERSAL COVERAGE…. To appreciate why so many conservative Republican lawmakers oppose health care reform, it’s important to remember that they generally don’t consider the status quo that bad. Most Americans already have some kind of insurance through their employers; retirees are already covered through Medicare; and everyone else can just go to the emergency room.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R) of North Carolina, for example, shared these words of wisdom yesterday.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) disputes President Obama’s claim that 47 million Americans lack healthcare. “There are no Americans who don’t have healthcare. Everybody in this country has access to healthcare,” she says. “We do have about 7.5 million Americans who want to purchase health insurance who cannot afford it,” she says, urging Congress to adopt a new plan for healthcare reform that wouldn’t “destroy what is good about healthcare in this country” and “give the government control of our lives.”

“There are no Americans who don’t have healthcare.” I feel like we’ve been hearing that quite a bit from GOP officials lately. Last weekend, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked on “Meet the Press” about the 47 million Americans who go without health insurance, McConnell replied, “Well, they don’t go without health care,” because they can just go to the emergency room.

It’s a surprisingly common argument. Last year, the conservative who shaped John McCain’s health care policy said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance. The year before, Tom DeLay argued, “[N]o American is denied health care in America,” because everyone can go to the emergency room. Around the same time, George W. Bush said the same thing: “[P]eople have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” In 2004, then-HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said our healthcare system “could be defined as universal coverage,” because of emergency rooms.

There are a couple of key angles to this. First, it’s true that if you’re uninsured and get sick, there are public hospitals that will treat you. But it’s extremely expensive to treat patients this way, and it would be far cheaper, and more effective, to pay for preventative care so that people don’t have to wait for a medical emergency to seek treatment. For that matter, when sick people with no insurance go to the E.R. for care, they often can’t pay their bills. Since hospitals can’t treat sick patients for free, so the costs are passed on to everyone else.

In that sense, Republicans are endorsing the most inefficient system of socialized medicine ever devised.

Second, for Foxx or anyone else to argue that every Americans “has access to healthcare” is absurd. As Matt Corley explained, millions of Americans experience access problems due to medical costs every year, and skip necessary treatment because they can’t afford it.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.