In order to justify his continued refusal to expand his state’s Medicaid program — which would extend health coverage to an additional 200,000 low-income Mississippians — the governor explained that poor people don’t need a “massive new program” when they can simply visit an emergency room to receive care:
BRYANT: There is no one who doesn’t have health care in America. No one. Now, they may end up going to the emergency room. There are better ways to deal with people that need health care than this massive new program.
This is not a new train of thought in the Republican Party. During the presidential election, GOP candidate Mitt Romney claimed that “we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance” by picking them up in ambulance and taking them to the hospital. But suggesting that uninsured Americans can simply get the care they need in the ER is naive. Emergency room and ambulatory care are some of the most expensive medical services in the industry, and the current health care safety net isn’t able to accommodate the strain of an influx of uninsured, low-income Americans who can’t foot those bills.
And, of course, Bryant’s assertion that “there is no one” who lacks health care in this country is false. The Census Bureau estimates that nearly 49 million people were uninsured in 2011. Over 20 percent of working Americans don’t have health care, and 40 percent of the people living in poverty were unable to visit a doctor in 2010. Some of the country’s poorest residents are currently unable to qualify for Medicaid coverage — and even when they do, they can still struggle to access the health services they need.
Obamacare makes big strides to improve Americans’ access to care, particularly with its optional Medicaid expansion, which could extend coverage to 17 million previously uninsured low-income people across the country. But if Republican leaders like Bryant — whose own state has a 19 percent uninsurance rate, one of the worst in the nation — continue to oppose health care reform by pretending uninsured Americans don’t exist, that progress will be placed in jeopardy.