The enduring love for emergency rooms

THE ENDURING LOVE FOR EMERGENCY ROOMS…. This is easily my favorite conservative health care argument of them all.

While speaking out against Democratic proposals to increase access to quality, affordable health care, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) claimed, “all Americans have health care, every single one.”

With 45,000 Americans dying every year because they lack coverage, King’s nonsense is both foolish and offensive.

But there has to be some basis for the claim, right? King didn’t specify what he meant, but the only way it makes any sense at all is if you believe that literally “all” Americans “have health care” by virtue of the fact that they can go to an emergency room. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) echoed this sentiment just this week, noting, “No one is going to go without health care because everyone can show up at the hospital.”

This comes up all the time. In July, for example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked 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.

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.

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.

Steve King, Jim DeMint, and their cohorts have endorsed the most inefficient system of socialized medicine ever devised.