I have heard Mr. Romney's claim that nobody in our country dies because he or she has no health insurance: "We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance." Au contraire: "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," he says.
In an interview with CBS News' 60 Minutes a few weeks ago, Romney also pointed to emergency rooms as an adequate form of health care for people without insurance:
"Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance," Romney told interviewer Scott Pelley. "If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and -- and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care."
Romney is not the only influential Republican to claim such grandiose, charitable excellence in our health care system. Back in 2007, former President George W. Bush, threatening to veto an expansion of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, said, "People have access to health care in America."
Having heard and read about so many Americans being bankrupted by the cost of a serious illness or accident, about so many Americans not receiving adequate preventive -- or any other kind of adequate medical care -- because of lack of funds and lack of insurance, I knew in my own mind that such statements were inaccurate or, at best, misleading.
However, not having an intimate knowledge of our health care laws -- both federal and at the state level -- I did not have enough information to refute such outlandishness.
In "Death by Ideology" in yesterday's New York Times, Paul Krugman claims that such statements "clearly demonstrate that Mr. Romney has no idea what life (and death) are like for those less fortunate than himself," and calls the idea that everyone gets urgent care when needed from emergency rooms just plain "false."
"Yes, hospitals are required by law to treat people in dire need, whether or not they can pay. But that care isn't free -- on the contrary, if you go to an emergency room you will be billed, and the size of that bill can be shockingly high. Some people can't or won't pay, but fear of huge bills can deter the uninsured from visiting the emergency room even when they should. And sometimes they die as a result.
More important, going to the emergency room when you're very sick is no substitute for regular care, especially if you have chronic health problems. When such problems are left untreated -- as they often are among uninsured Americans -- a trip to the emergency room can all too easily come too late to save a life."
That is what I thought, too.
"So let's be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income."
Although I agree with Krugman, I am sure that there are many who support Romney's and Bush's claims that poor Americans do have access to adequate health care in America -- in emergency rooms.