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Mitt Romney says Americans don't die for lack of health insurance: Is he right?
"You go to the hospital," the GOP nominee says. "You get treated, you get care, and it's paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital."
 
"We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance," Mitt Romney said in a recent interview.
"We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance," Mitt Romney said in a recent interview.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Liberal critics of Mitt Romney's plan to repeal ObamaCare argue that a President Romney would leave tens of millions of Americans without health insurance they would otherwise have under Obama's reform law. In a meeting with the Columbus Dispatch editorial board this week, Romney sought to downplay the harm that such an insurance-revoking plan would cause. "We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance," Romney said, repeating a claim he made last month on 60 Minutes. Is Romney right, or is he underestimating the dangers faced by the nation's tens of millions of uninsured Americans? Here, a brief guide:

First off: What exactly did Romney say?
He told the newspaper's editors that even those without health-insurance coverage have a safety net, because federal law prohibits hospitals from turning even uninsured people away when they show up to an emergency room. "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,'" Romney said. "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."

Is Romney right?
About the law, yes, he is, says Rebecca Leber at Think Progress. Emergency rooms really do serve as "a place of last resort" for the uninsured. Still, an analysis released in 2009 by Harvard Medical School researchers found that 45,000 Americans die every year because they don't have health insurance. That's one person every 12 minutes. Other studies have put the figure lower — the Institute of Medicine estimated in 2002 that about 18,000 people die annually because they're uninsured. Indeed, the consensus among researchers is that you run a greater risk of dying if you're not insured.

Why do uninsured Americans die if hospitals must admit them?
Hospitals have to treat them in the emergency room, but many patients don't get there until it's too late. And patients with chronic conditions often can't afford care they need on a regular basis — basic services that emergency rooms aren't set up to provide. "For any doctor," Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a co-author of the 2009 study, told Reuters, "it's completely a no-brainer that people who can't get health care are going to die more from the kinds of things that health care is supposed to prevent."

Why is Romney talking about this at all?
He's stuck with "defending his emergency-room plan as a tenable solution," says Steve Benen at MSNBC, because he knows full well his proposal to gut ObamaCare will strand tens of millions of Americans with no coverage. "The reality is plain for anyone who cares: Americans die because they lack basic coverage," and forcing hospitals and taxpayers to foot the bill for free emergency room care is "the most inefficient system of socialized medicine ever devised." But Romney isn't talking about returning to the pre-ObamaCare status quo, says John Hinderaker at Power Line. He wants to help get more people covered by doing things like "banning discrimination" against people with pre-existing conditions. So disagree with him if you must, but don't distort his plans.

Sources: Columbus Dispatch, MSNBC, PowerLine, Reuters, Think Progress

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

 

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