Let them eat gauze

2012 has been a crazy year in presidential politics, from Rick Perry’s suggestion that Texas might secede from the Union to Rick Santorum railing against all forms of birth control to Newt Gingrich’s talk of an American colony on the moon by the end of his second term. While that is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future – either a lunar colony or a Gingrich presidency – those bizarre notions might have been surpassed this week by the Republican nominee for president, former Gov. Mitt Romney, who appeared on the CBS News program 60 Minutes.

When answering a question from correspondent Scott Pelley about the responsibility to provide care for the 50 million Americans without health insurance, Romney rejected the suggestion those uninsured are doing without.

“We do provide care for people who don’t have insurance,” he said. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment 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. … Some provide that care through clinics. Some provide the care through emergency rooms.”

That spraying sound you may have heard was ER doctors, nurses and admitting clerks around the country doing a spit take at Romney’s outlandish and uninformed statement. No doubt the staff and administrators of hospitals here in Southeast Texas were equally dismayed at the notion that it is somehow acceptable for the ER to be the medical facility of first – not last – resort. ERs are the most expensive and inefficient means of delivering routine health care – and clearly not the place to provide preventive care and address chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Left untreated, they cause serious complications, exacting both a human and financial toll that should be unacceptable to all but the most fervent social Darwinists.

Opposition to the ER-as-panacea idea was immediate, but one earlier rebuttal came from an unlikely source – Romney himself.

“Look, it doesn’t make a 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,” he said in a March 2010 interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Romney should know it is not “entirely free care.” It is subsidized by state and local taxpayers and through higher premiums on those who do have health insurance.The problem is the rabid GOP opposition to the Affordable Care Act of 2010 contained no ideas whatsoever as to what might take its place. After a primary season when Romney and his rivals scrambled to outdo each other in their rejection of what they derisively termed “Obamacare,” their nominee is left with nothing better than sending people to the ER – again demonstrating how out of touch Romney is with the lives of average Americans.