On a Sunday interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed that the poor already have health insurance because emergency rooms are obligated by law to treat anyone who comes in.
"Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don't have it today?" asked CBS' Scott Pelley.
"Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance, people -- we -- if someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and -- and die. We -- we pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care," Romney said. "And different states have different ways of providing for that care."
Pelley pointed out, "That's the most expensive way to do it."
"Diff -- different, again, different states have different ways of doing that. Some -- some provide that care through clinics. Some provide the care through emergency rooms. In my state, we found a solution that worked for my state," Romney explained. "But I wouldn't take what we did in Massachusetts and say to Texas, 'You've got to take the Massachusetts model.'"
As Sarah Kliff points out for the Washington Post, the Emergency Medical Treatment Active and Labor Act is the law that has required hospitals to stabilize someone with a life-threatening condition regardless of health insurance status since 1986. But even with this law, it doesn't guarantee treatment in emergency rooms. Kliff points to a study published in the journal Health Affairs that documented many hospitals manage to avoid treating those without coverage.
"The ambulance drove past several for-profit hospitals much closer to her home en route to Denver Health Medical Center. The ambulance attendants reportedly explained to the patient’s husband that the facilities they were bypassing did not treat uninsured patients. The patient remained in Denver Health’s medical intensive care unit for nearly a week, incurring charges of $66,619," the study said.
Additionally, many people have been hunted by collections agencies for treatment they've received in emergency rooms. The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young has followed the efforts of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (D), who investigated Accretive Health, a Minnesota company that Swanson says has gone too far in aggressively pursuing hospital billing and debt collection. Bruce Folken, a patient at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, Minnesota was asked as he was treated, "Do you want to pay now?"
In July, Minnesota banned Accretive Health from doing business in the state for at least six years and settled a lawsuit the state filed against them for $2.5 million.
Watch the clip, broadcast on 60 Minutes on Sept. 23.