We talked last week about one of the right’s favorite arguments: the United States doesn’t need a system in which Americans have health insurance because if the uninsured get sick, they can just go to the emergency room. Of all the awful arguments against reform, I consider this the worst of the worst.
What I didn’t know until today is that Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli (R) has an especially interesting take on the issue.
A Democratic source flagged this amazing clip in which Virginia’s right-wing attorney general was asked about the health care system, and he called for limiting something called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (or EMTALA). If this sounds unfamiliar, it’s the ’80s-era law, signed by President Reagan, that requires emergency rooms to provide care regardless of citizenship, legal status, or a patient’s ability to pay.
Under the system before the Affordable Care Act, the use of emergency rooms for care caused systemic problems – it’s been socialized medicine at its most inefficient extreme. The uninsured wait until an ailment is life-threatening, at which point they seek very expensive and medically dire care, which bankrupts the sick person while spreading the costs to everyone else.
Cuccinelli has his own vision for what to do about it. Help Americans have access to affordable care so they won’t have to wait for a crisis and show up at the E.R. for expensive treatment? No, of course not. In Cuccinelli’s vision, we’ll just scale EMTALA back so emergency rooms won’t have to treat the uninsured facing medical emergencies.
As he explains it in the video, “I would expect we would ratchet back EMTALA so that those are the people you’re left dealing with, not the people who come in with a cold who clog up the ER, the emergency rooms and use those facilities for maintenance…. There’s going to be a period of time where people are going to have to adjust…. Human beings will adjust.”
In context, “Human beings will adjust” appears to be a remarkable euphemism for “We’re going to let poor, sick Americans die on the streets.”
Adding insult to injury, in 2008 as a state lawmaker, Cuccinelli also sponsored a measure intended to make it harder for poor, sick people to avoid hospital bills. Specifically, he wanted to empower hospitals to fingerprint patients to make sure they got stuck with medical bills they couldn’t afford.
Taken together, it’s quite a vision Cuccinelli has offered. Struggling American families shouldn’t have access to subsidized insurance; they shouldn’t be able to rely on emergency rooms in a crisis; and if they do show up at an E.R., they should make sure bill collectors can squeeze them later for having the audacity to get sick.
But don’t worry, Cuccinelli assures us, “Human beings will adjust.”
What a nightmare.