Mitt Romney thinks emergency rooms provide sufficient healthcare for the uninsured. He doesn't think they have any need for more than that. At least that's what he said in a "60 Minutes" interview, on Sunday night.
Emergency room care is neither free nor affordable, nor is it a replacement for normal healthcare. Emergency rooms are for emergencies, not routine regular care.
Over-crowded emergency rooms, full of non-emergencies, reduce the level of care for everyone by shortening the amount of time that a doctor can spend on any individual patient, for both the insured and uninsured alike. Forcing the poor to rely on emergency rooms for all of their healthcare needs puts a strain on services intended for and designed to meet the needs for the treatment of acute emergencies only.
And there is an awful lot that emergency rooms just will not do.
Emergency rooms do not provide routine wellness checkups to catch and treat potential issues before they become major life threatening problems.
You will never get a cancer diagnosis or treatment from an ER, even with insurance. The most an ER will do for someone with cancer and no insurance is hook them up to a ventilator when they reach the end stage and can no longer breathe for themselves, and they might not even do that. The ER does not give out chemo, does not schedule you for surgery to remove a tumor before it spreads to the rest of your body. The ER will not help you fight cancer. If you have to rely on an ER for your cancer treatment, you will lose, cancer will win, and you will die.
Treatment for gallstones in an ER for someone with no insurance is to hook them up to an IV for about 12 hours and then discharge them with the advice to "eat a low fat diet", without spending any more than about 10 seconds to explain what that really means. Treatment for someone with insurance is removal of the stones, or gall bladder.
Walk into an ER in an urban area and complain of pain. Unless you are bleeding or have broken bones, there is a good chance that hospital personnel will assume that you are a drug addict looking for a free fix. Whatever is causing your pain will not be taken seriously and you will be discharged with instructions to go see your primary care physician.
A diabetic can not receive testing supplies nor medication for the daily treatment of his condition from an ER. The only people that get treatment for diabetes in an ER is when they are brought in because their blood sugar is either dangerously high or low, which triggers something else happening (like them passing out). They will also not receive regular screenings for nerve damage in their feet and hands, which can lead to the need for amputation. They will not be given vision screenings to help prevent blindness.
Someone with asthma will receive emergency treatment from an ER to stop an attack, but will not receive any treatment to prevent future attacks. Each attack will cost the tax payers in excess of $3000 if the patient can't pay, while an inhaler to prevent attacks would in many cases only cost the tax payers around $10 per month.
Emergency rooms do not dispense prescription eyeglasses or hearing aids. Nor will they straighten your child's crooked teeth with braces, fill cavities, or remove tartar build up.
Emergency rooms do not prescribe or dispense birth control, except for some hospitals that will dispense a "morning after" pill to a rape victim.
Emergency rooms do not provide routine prenatal care to ensure that your baby has the best chance of being born healthy.
Emergency rooms do not provide daycare for Alzheimer's patients. They won't watch your mom for you every day so that you can go to work.
Emergency rooms do not provide mental health services to anyone that is not an immediate threat to themselves or others. And for those that are, the care stops as soon as they are out of danger, not when they are ready to face life on their own without help.
Even Mitt Romney's example of a person having a heart attack not being refused treatment in an ER is flawed. If that person had a primary care physician and access to prescription drugs, he might not have had a life threatening heart attack in the first place.
What Mitt Romney meant to say to every uninsured person in America was that he doesn't care if they die.
Telling uninsured people to use the ER for their main source of healthcare is only a step above telling them to go to the library and look up their symptoms on WebMD, and then treat their health issues themselves with whatever they can get without a prescription. In the end, regardless of whether they go to an emergency room or not, that is pretty much what they will be doing most of the time, any way.