Mitt Romney appeared to reverse his opinion on emergency health care in an eyebrow-raising interview with 60 Minutes.
CBS News' Scott Pelley sat down with Romney on the campaign trail Sunday to discuss the election and the specifics of Romney's governing plan. When the conversation turned to health care, Pelley asked, "Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don't have it today?"
"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," Romney replied. "We pick them up in an ambulance and take them to a hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care."
Pelley interjected, "That's the most expensive way to do it, in the emergency room."
Romney went on to repeat that different states have different approaches. Some choose emergency rooms, others clinics, and still others, like Romney’s own Massachusetts, a universal mandate. "But I wouldn’t take what we did in Massachusetts and say to Texas, 'You've got to take the Massachusetts model.'"
Pelley was right about emergency room care. It's the most expensive way to cover the uninsured, not only because the taxpayer (read: you) pays for it with higher premiums, but because folks without insurance are more likely to wait until their ailments need serious, protracted treatment. Catching a disease in its earliest stages can save a life, but it can also save money. Lots of money.
This cumbersome solution to the chronically uninsured is widely considered to be one of the key reasons why health care in this country was in need of an overhaul. It's fiscally damaging, to say nothing whatever of the moral implications.
Romney seemed to agree as recently as 2010. During an appearance on msnbc's Morning Joe, Romney said "it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which you have no responsibility. Particularly if they are people who have sufficient means to pay their own way." That was two years ago.
Karen Finney over at The Hill pointed us to this telling quote from the man himself, at a GOP presidential primary debate in 2007. Romney declared, "the best kind of prevention you can have in healthcare is to have a doctor. And if someone doesn't have a doctor, doesn't have a clinic they can go to, doesn’t have health insurance to be able to provide the prescription drugs they need, you can’t be healthy. And you need to have health insurance for all of our citizens."