The GOP’s emergency-room argument lives

THE GOP’S EMERGENCY-ROOM ARGUMENT LIVES…. The good news for Sue Lowden’s Republican Senate campaign in Nevada is that it’s no longer talking about bartering, bargaining, and chickens. The bad news is, Lowden’s campaign is still struggling with health care policy.

This week, the candidate’s campaign manager, Robert Uithoven, was asked a straightforward question: does the campaign believe all Americans should have access to health care. He replied:

“They do. If I have a bullet hole in my chest, I can go down to UMC and I’m gonna get health care.”

Greg Sargent noted, “UMC is the University Medical Center, the only publicly run hospital in Las Vegas.”

And, presumably, if Uithoven was shot and taken to the emergency room, he should try to keep costs down by bargaining and offering to barter with the medical professionals tasked with saving his life. At least, that’s what his boss has been arguing recently.

Regardless, of all the Republican talking points on health care policy, the emergency-room argument is easily my favorite. Come to think of it, Republicans love it just as much.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was touting it in November, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) was thinking along the same lines in October. In July, 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.

In 2008, 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.

Let’s set the record straight. It’s true that under the previous system — before the Affordable Care Act passed — 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, the costs are passed on to everyone else.

Sue Lowden’s campaign and its Republican brethren oppose health care reform, but they’ve endorsed the most inefficient system of socialized medicine ever devised.