Another day, another editorial board, another controversial remark for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. On Wednesday, it was abortion. On Thursday, health care.
The former Massachusetts governor has said repeatedly that one of his top priorities is to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act, known increasingly as “Obamacare.” He’s said less about what exactly he would replace it with.
In a discussion of that plan with editors of The Columbus Dispatch, Romney said this:
“We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance. 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.’ 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.”
Now that sounds similar to comments Romney made last month in an interview with CBS’s 60 minutes — but not the same.
What he said last month was that if people need emergency care, they can always go to a hospital and get it. And that’s true. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires hospitals to treat people who show up with bona fide emergencies, or women in, as the name suggests, active labor. But it doesn’t require them to provide that care for free. They can, and usually do, try to collect from even uninsured patients, often at fees well above those negotiated by insurance companies.
But Romney was talking about something slightly different in Ohio: the idea that the U.S. doesn’t have people who become ill or die because they don’t have insurance. That, however, is belied by a large and growing body of academic studies, starting with a landmark study from the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine in 2002 that found 18,000 people died in the year 2000 because they lacked health insurance.
Various updates of that study have come up with even larger numbers, mostly because of a growing number of uninsured people, combined with the increasing cost of medical care. In other words, there’s a growing gap between what you can get with insurance and without.
And it’s not just deaths. Studies also show people who get sick have worse outcomes if they don’t have insurance than if they do, across a wide array of ailments, from cancer to heart disease to asthma.
Meanwhile, Democrats were already poised to pounce. Even before Romney made his comment, access to insurance was something President Obama’s campaign has been hammering on. In events in Colorado, a swing state, the president has been introduced by a college student named Ryan Case, who recently lost both his parents after they lost their health insurance.
After Romney’s comment in Columbus became public, the Obama campaign tweeted a link to a video featuring Case blaming that lack of insurance for contributing to both of his parents’ deaths.