WASHINGTON -- When CNN's Wolf Blitzer pressed Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) over what he would do if a 30-year-old uninsured man suddenly slipped into a coma and needed care, he did so, in all likelihood, not knowing just how personal a question it was for the Texas Republican.
Paul's 2008 campaign manager, Kent Snyder, went through a strikingly similar experience to Blitzer's hypothetical one, dying of complications from viral pneumonia just two weeks after Paul ended his presidential bid. Snyder was uninsured, so family and friends were forced to raise funds to cover his $400,000 in medical bills. Their efforts included setting up a website soliciting contributions from Paul supporters.
The episode reflects what Paul himself argued should be the free-market ideal for health insurance policy. During Monday night's GOP primary debate, the libertarian Republican made the case that health insurance coverage was a choice. If one decided to forgo it, he ran the risk of mounting bills. If a patient was on his deathbed, it wasn't the taxpayers' responsibility to pick up that tab.
"I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid in the early 1960s when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa hospital in San Antonia, and the churches took care of them," Paul said. "We never turned anybody away from the hospital. And we've given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves, our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. This whole idea -- that's the reason the cost is so high. The cost is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy."
Paul's statement was overshadowed by the audience response that preceded it -- most notably, the audible yells of "yes" when Blitzer asked Paul if he thought society should "just let" the hypothetical sick patient without insurance die. By Wednesday, that moment had become the basis of a new online ad campaign and attack site -- www.LetHimDie.com -- funded by the Democratic-leaning Protect Your Care.
It's important to note that no one on the debate stage agreed with the audience members who screamed. The next day, Texas Governor Rick Perry said he was taken aback, and a staffer for former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman expressed dismay.
While the episode provides a window into the type of principled approach that makes Paul both an appealing candidate and a lightning rod, the question of whether Snyder's story affirms the congressman's worldview is far more controversial. It shows community support can fill the void that government often plays, but at the same time, not all uninsured individuals can rely on family, friends or campaign email lists to raise $400,000.
The individual mandate for people to purchase insurance coverage is meant to ensure that taxpayers aren't left on the hook. But the law that Paul and others may find equally problematic -- at least in this instance -- is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which requires that care be provided to anyone needing emergency treatment regardless of citizenship status or ability to pay.
The Paul campaign did not immediately return request for comment, but this story will be updated if The Huffington Post receives a response.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Representative Ron Paul was from from Ohio. He is from Texas.