Mitt Romney now says that everybody in America has health coverage, because anybody can go to the emergency room. The implication is that if you go to the emergency room, you will be treated and, if you cannot pay, the government will pick up the tab. Just like having a single payer system. Actually, it is not an implication. While I was typing this, the Ed Show showed the clip, and here is what he said:
Look, it doesn't make a whole 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 they have no responsibility. Particulary if they're people who have sufficient means to pay their own way.People who can afford to pay their own way do not get free medical care at an emergency room. It is beyond stupid to think that they do.
Let me tell you what happens when you end up going to the emergency room. I think my experience is, in many ways, typical of the situation.
I had good insurance. Then my firm had to cutback one position. I hated the firm and the occupation, and volunteered to be the one to be cut. Okay, I bear the responsibility for that. However, while I lost my insurance, I did not apply for or receive unemployment insurance, although I was clearly entitled to it. I figured that I was partly responsible for being unemployed.
Little did I know that companies do not offer health insurance anymore. I have had several jobs since then, but I have never had or been able to afford health insurance anymore. Compounding the lack of employers who offer insurance is the fact that I have a preexisting condition, which makes getting my own insurance impossible.
So, several years after essentially quitting that job, I had an episode that required me to see a doctor. I knew I needed to see a doctor, but I had no insurance and I could not afford to see a doctor. I put it off and hoped for the best. Finally I was taken to the emergency room. I was told I needed extensive care. I told them I couldn't afford it. I was told then I would need a casket. I reiterated that I could not afford care. After a lengthy discussion of the extent of care I would need, I finally said, "That casket's looking better and better all the time."
One of the women left the room and, when she came back, she said that she had phoned a third party social services organization and they said they would pay for the treatment. I have never been one to seek or accept charity, but they all insisted I would die without treatment and could not understand why I would refuse treatment when there would be no cost to me. I finally relented, and was admitted to the hospital. I had a team of three primary doctors and stayed a week.
The social services organization refused to pay the bills. I had just started a construction job a week before the incident, but they were not able to keep a job for a person who worked a week, then went to the hospital for a week, then needed four weeks of bed recovery. Who can blame them? Apparently the fact that I had a job when I entered the emergency room disqualified me, although I knew for a fact that if I accepted the treatment I would no longer have a job.
So the bills started coming. And coming. And coming. Then the phone calls started coming. When can we expect you to pay these bills, which are four times your last annual salary? Um, never? Then the lawsuit came. I convinced the lawyers that they would lose, as it was clear that I had refused all treatment until I was assured that I would not have to pay the bills, and every one of the doctors and the hospital staff knew that. The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed. The credit rating hits were not dismissed.
Sometimes I feel bad about the whole situation. Two of the doctors were absolutely warm, caring, attentive professionals. I do not know if they got paid. We always hear that people like me cause people like you higher insurance premiums or higher taxes. I have to admit that I do not know how that works. Higher taxes? Does that mean that there is a government program that covers the cost of my care? How else would anyone's taxes go up? Or someone can explain to me how my care causes someone else's premiums go up. Surely your insurance is not paying for my care.
The bottom line is that Mitt is lying. People who can afford to pay their own way are not getting free care at emergency rooms. They get harrassed, and then they get sued. People who cannot afford to pay their own way have the original options I had. Take the free care or die. Honestly, without being maudlin, I was perfectly willing to go home and see what happened. Not that big of a deal to me. I've done what I'm going to do in this lifetime. Frankly, I've let everyone know in my family that the next time this happens, I am not going to accept charity.
I've paid taxes since I was 14. If my government cannot turn my taxes into basic health care like every other western government does, then so be it. As is so often the case, if I had access to medical care early on, I would not have been in a position to go to the emergency room.
It was not easy writing this. I often feel like a leech on society because of this episode. I fully expect comments to that effect. The whole point of this exercise is to emphasize that hospitals and doctors do not merely give free treatment in emergency rooms. They expect to get paid and they will harrass you and sue you to make sure they get paid, if that is at all possible. If, as Mitt says, you are capable of paying, well then trust me, you're going to pay.