The Affordable Care Act builds on and improves America’s private health care system to lower health care costs for families, reduce the deficit, give Americans the largest middle class health care tax cut in history, and make sure that millions of people can get affordable, quality health insurance. From free preventive care to coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions, Obamacare strengthens health care coverage for all Americans.
But Mitt Romney promised to “kill” Obamacare on day one of his presidency if elected, jeopardizing coverage and care for millions. Asked on 60 Minutes whether government has any responsibility to provide health care for the 50 million Americans who are currently uninsured, Romney responded:
“Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people—we—if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”
Romney is suggesting that the emergency room is a viable health care solution for the millions of Americans who will lose the opportunity for coverage or be kicked off their insurance plans if he repeals Obamacare. Forcing the uninsured to go the emergency room not only makes Americans wait until they’re sick enough to go to the ER and get billed into bankruptcy; it also passes along unnecessarily expensive health care costs to taxpayers. Here’s a look at the reality of emergency care:
Cost to taxpayers: In 2008, uninsured Americans received $116 billion worth of care from hospitals, doctors, and other providers. To make up for this uncompensated care, the costs were shifted to insurers in the form of higher charges for health services that were passed on to families and businesses as higher premiums. This hidden health tax translated into an additional $1,017 for family health care coverage and $368 for single health care coverage.
The ER does not provide preventive care: “You’re not going to get chemotherapy in the emergency department nor could you have gotten the colonoscopy that might have detected the cancer far earlier…You can’t get screened for a host of disorders. You can’t get treatment for your depression there or really for any chronic mental disorders. You can’t get help with your child’s autism, ADHD or developmental delay.”
Emergency room care is not free: Hospitals still bill a patient for care that is not strictly an emergency. In 2011, about 80,000 patients left certain hospitals without treatment after learning they’d have to pay $150 upfront “because they did not have a true emergency.” While insured patients pay their normal co-payment and deductible upfront, the uninsured can face fees “as high as $350.” And hospitals are free to aggressively bill patients for any care they do provide, placing liens on income and driving families into bankruptcy.
Romney has previously noted these problems himself. In describing why he developed Romneycare as governor of Massachusetts, Romney said, “We need to find a way to get [the uninsured] insurance, so they get better care. And they cost us less money ... they won’t be showing up at the emergency room, which is far more expensive to government and to the rest of us.” “The taxpayers are paying for the person who rolls the dice in that manner and goes to the emergency room,” he said in 2004. “The money we’re spending we can devote to get them the kind of care they need, which is primary care, preventive care, not in the hospital.”
He even declared as much in his 2010 book, “No Apology”:
Under federal law, hospitals had to stabilize and treat people who arrived at their emergency rooms with acute conditions. And our state’s hospitals were offering even more assistance than the federal government required. That meant that someone was already paying for the cost of treating people who didn’t have health insurance. If we could get our hands on that money, and therefore redirect it to help the uninsured buy insurance instead and obtain treatment in the way that the vast majority of individuals did—before acute conditions developed—the cost of insuring everyone in the state might not be as expensive as I had feared.
Romney’s new belief that emergency room care is a preferable alternative to providing uninsured Americans with a way to get affordable, quality coverage contradicts the very foundation of his health care law in Massachusetts and would jeopardize the health security of millions. This choice could not be more stark in this election. Make sure your voice is heard by making the commitment to vote.