REPUBLICANS SURE DO LOVE EMERGENCY ROOMS…. Zaid Jilani reports on one of the more ridiculous recent comments I’ve heard about health care reform.

One of the most radical opponents of health care reform is Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA). He has said that a public option would “kill people.” Last Tuesday, Broun was confronted by a constituent at a health care town hall who explained that he has gone into debt because he can’t afford insurance for his major depressive disorder. In response to his constituent’s story, Broun said that “people who have depression, who have chronic diseases in this country … can always get care in this country by going to the emergency room.”

Now, I was glad to see the crowd boo in response to Broun’s answer. It represents a fairly twisted view of medical treatment, and the fact that Broun considers himself a leading GOP voice on health care makes his remarks all the more ridiculous.

Indeed, does Broun, who claims to be a physician by trade, understand that those dealing with major depressive disorders can’t just stop by the E.R.?

But in the larger context, Republican officials’ reliance on emergency rooms as a safety net is in desperate need of re-evaluation.

In July, for example, 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, Broun and his cohorts have endorsed the most inefficient system of socialized medicine ever devised.

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.