“Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”
That wasn’t a villainous hospital administrator in a poorly written medical drama. That quote came straight from the mouth of an elected member of the United States Congress: Idaho’s Raul Labrador, speaking to a crowd of constituents furious about his vote in support of the American Health Care Act.
It goes without saying that this is a ridiculous, even malicious lie. Or does it?
From Harry and Louise to death panels to just this past weekend when House Speaker Paul Ryan made the ridiculous claim that people can’t be denied coverage if they have a preexisting condition under the AHCA (they can be charged so much that any coverage is unaffordable), misinformation always pollutes debates over health care.
Labrador’s lie – met with a raucous chorus of outrage – has become one of the GOP’s go-to arguments when promoting their bills. And make no mistake that “lie” is the right word here. A 2009 study showed 45,000 Americans died every year because they didn’t have health care coverage. Can’t afford to get that stomach pain checked? That delay could mean by the time you’re forced to go the emergency room, the cancer causing the pain has advanced from treatable to terminal.
The emergency room argument is a common one for Republicans; they make it over and over again, and have been for years. It goes something like this: Everyone in America has health care, because if you need to, you can go to the emergency room, where they’re legally obligated to treat you! Labrador’s “nobody dies” line was essentially a variation on this argument.
What’s so surprising about the politicians who make this argument is that, presumably, they are all human beings who’ve lived their entire lives in human bodies. And anyone who’s lived for a long time in a human body, surrounded by many other human bodies, should know emergency rooms cannot provide the sort of health care most people need most of the time.
It’s true emergency care is incredibly expensive to provide when compared to preventive care, and when people who can’t pay use the emergency room, hospitals and insurance companies pass the cost on to the rest us through higher bills and premiums. But that’s only part of the story explaining why access to emergency rooms isn’t the same as access to health care.
Diabetics who need daily injections of insulin can’t spend hours in the emergency room every day of their lives. People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder can’t get therapy in an emergency room. I’ve never seen an emergency room that does chemotherapy.
I have a bad back; I can’t get physical therapy or epidural injections in the ER. And my family has been to the emergency room twice to deal with life-threatening reactions my daughter had to peanuts – but we can’t go there for the care she needs to deal with her allergies daily.
What if you need a hip replacement? Or regular treatment for cystic fibrosis? Or any of the thousands and thousands of other medical issues that require care you cannot get in an emergency room?
This isn’t about one silly argument Republicans cannot seem to stop themselves from making. Their entire health care agenda is based on this kind of thinking. Look at the “solutions” they suggest to giving people coverage: health savings accounts, as though the average American can put away enough money to cover catastrophic care, or buying insurance across state lines, which means insurance companies could force you to buy policies from states with the rules friendliest to them.
Neither of these policies helps deliver comprehensive care to the people who need it most. It doesn’t solve the problems the Affordable Care Act was designed to solve, like making sure poor and middle-class Americans have decent health care, that people with pre-existing medical conditions can get affordable insurance, and that preventive care is available to everyone at little or no cost.
The ACA hasn’t been perfect, but it has addressed real health care concerns that real people deal with every day. It saves lives.
I host a podcast about the Trump administration, and for a recent episode I asked people to call in with their fears about how the American Health Care Act would affect their care. Six years ago, Sarah Beth Cowherd from Norfolk, Virginia, discovered she suffered from “a severe and disabling autoimmune disease with no known cure.” Every three weeks, she has to go to a hospital for an intravenous infusion that costs $55,000 per treatment.
If the American Health Care Act becomes law in its current form, it could become virtually impossible for Cowherd to find insurance, and even if she does, she could reach a lifetime cap on benefits in as little as a year. With no way to pay the astronomical cost herself – she worked as a cardiac nurse until the disease made it impossible – she would face a death sentence. She certainly couldn’t show up at the emergency room every three weeks.
Rep. Labrador is wrong that people won’t die because they don’t get health care, as stories like Sarah Beth Cowherd’s illustrate. Thousands of Americans will die, and millions more won’t have access to the regular care they need without affordable, comprehensive insurance. The emergency room isn’t a magical place where comprehensive health care is available to anyone – that’s Canada.
From “High-Risk Pools” to defunding Planned Parenthood, the House Republicans’ repeal of Obamacare is bad news for American healthcare. Watch here.