A few weeks ago the Governor was interviewed on 60 Minutes and, as you might expect, he was asked about health care. Scott Pelley asked him this question: “Do you think the government has a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?” He responded:
Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance. 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.
His implication is clear: If you don’t have health insurance you don’t have to worry. Just go to the emergency room and you’ll be taken care of. That’s fine, but it’s just not true. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires that anyone who comes to a hospital emergency room be provided an examination and needed stabilizing treatment. In other words, if you show up in an emergency room with chest pain, they have to make sure you are stable. In that sense Governor Romney is correct that emergency room has to stop your chest pain.
But they don’t need to stop your heart disease. They only need to stop your symptoms. So what if your symptoms aren’t cardiac? Glad you asked. There is an article in the today’s Los Angeles Times about Jode Towe.
On the surface, he is living the Republican dream. He started a business (as truck driver), but he couldn’t afford to buy health insurance on his own. His only option was to hope he didn’t get sick or injured. Things were going well until he noticed increased fatigue and “something” in the back of his throat. He paid out of pocket to see a doctor, and the results were not good. He’s not sure what is in his throat, but there is at least a chance it’s cancer. A biopsy would be the next logical step but that (and a tonsilectomy) would likely cost $4,000; if there is cancer any treatment would cost thousands of dollars, well beyond Mr. Towe’s ability to pay.
So what if he takes Governor Romney’s advice and go to the emergency room? All they are required to do is stabilize his symptoms (essentially a throat lozenge). Mr. Towe would also be responsible for any charges. In many ways that’s the worst part of Mr. Romney’s advice. If someone goes to the emergency room and can’t afford to pay, the hospital ends up eating the cost, but the hospital can still try to collect the money. They are counting on you mortgaging your house, selling your blood, hitting up your family, etc. If that doesn’t work they turn the case over to a collection agency that trashes your credit score. Nobody wins: the hospital doesn’t get their money and your financial future is compromised.
When the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in 2014, Mr. Towe will be offered affordable health insurance, even with his pre-existing condition. Hopefully he’ll still be around then.
Hopefully Governor Romney won’t have a chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act.