Just three weeks ago, CBS's Scott Pelley asked Mitt Romney, "Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don't have it today?" The Republican didn't answer the question directly, but instead suggested there's no cause for alarm -- the uninsured can rely on emergency rooms.
"We don't have a setting across this country where if you don't have insurance, we just say to you, 'Tough luck, you're going to die when you have your heart attack,' " he said as he offered more hints as to what he would put in place of "Obamacare," which he has pledged to repeal."No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it's paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance."He pointed out that federal law requires hospitals to treat those without health insurance -- although hospital officials frequently say that drives up health-care costs.
It's disconcerting to see Romney stick to such a ridiculous position, but my greater fear is that the Republican candidate actually believes what he's saying.
Let's set the record straight again. It's true that under the preferred Republican system -- American health care before the Affordable Care Act passed -- if you're uninsured and get sick, there are public hospitals that will treat you. As Romney noted, if you have a heart attack, you can call 911 and medical professionals will come get you and give you care.
But it's extremely expensive to treat patients this way, and it would be far cheaper, and more medically 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. No problem, Romney says, hospitals and the government will step up. But whether the confused former governor understands this or not, he's describing the most inefficient system of socialized medicine ever devised.
Indeed, since hospitals can't treat sick patients for free, the bills can still bankrupt those who get sick, and the costs are still passed on to everyone else.
And in the bigger picture, it's worse than that. For those with chronic ailments, this position is a pathetic joke -- is anyone going to stop by the emergency room for chemotherapy or diabetes treatments?
As for Romney, we know exactly why he keeps talking like this: under his approach, the number of Americans without health insurance will soar. He's defending his emergency-room plan as a tenable solution because the candidate is well aware of the reality -- tens of millions of Americans will have no other choices once a Romney administration destroys the Affordable Care Act and guts Medicaid.
The reality is plain for anyone who cares: Americans die because they lack basic coverage and Romney doesn't have a plan to deal with this. On the contrary, he has a plan to make the problem worse, on purpose.
Romney's argument isn't a responsible approach to American health care in the 21st century; Romney's argument is ridiculous.