Emergency rooms are not a substitute for coverage

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Abandoning the sensible position he used to hold, Mitt Romney now believes the United States can provide health care to 50 million uninsured Americans through emergency rooms. By every relevant metric – medical, economic, moral, fiscal – this approach is ridiculous, and it didn’t take long for the Obama campaign to unveil this new video on the subject.

I’m glad to see the issue get some attention, because it gets to the heart of the larger debate over the American health care system. Democrats believe it’s in the nation’s interest to provide coverage for the tens of millions of Americans who lack access to basic care; Republicans believe emergency rooms are enough.

Those who understand the system realize Romney’s approach is untenable. The American College of Emergency Physicians President David Seaberg issued a statement yesterday reminding the nation that “emergency care is not health insurance.” The Urban Institute’s Stan Dorn, who has done extensive research on the uninsured, told Greg Sargent that Romney’s position is “shocking.”

Indeed, to follow up on yesterday’s item on this, it’s worth appreciating the scope of the damage Romney’s policy would do. Jonathan Cohn explained yesterday:

Remember, Romney doesn’t simply want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, effectively taking health insurance away from 30 million people who, starting in 2014, are likely to get it from the law. He also wants to end Medicaid, making cuts that would leave between 14 and 27 million additional people without insurance. And he wants to change the tax treatment of employer health benefits, in ways that could make coverage more expensive or harder to get.

This matters because under this Romney model, it means more uninsured, which means more Americans relying on hyper-expensive emergency room care during crises, which means less-effective treatment than preventive care. It also, of course, means more families bankrupted by medical bills and more costs passed on to everyone else.

In Massachusetts, Romney understood this. It’s a shame he’s regressed as a national candidate.

Emergency Rooms and Mitt Romney

Emergency rooms are not a substitute for coverage

Updated