Heritage president and former South Carolina senator Jim DeMint continued his campaign to convince Republicans to shut down the government in a ploy to defund the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday, telling a town hall in Tampa, Florida that “This might be that last off-ramp to stop Obamacare before it becomes more enmeshed in our culture.” The law “is not about getting better health care,” he continued. Uninsured Americans “will get better health care just going to the emergency room.”
The claim may be a standard line for today’s Republicans, but it is a stark departure for DeMint and the think tank he now leads. In 1989, the Heritage Foundation was at the forefront of advocating for a requirement to purchase coverage through as system of regulated health care marketplaces, the very centerpiece of Obama’s health care reform, and later lobbied Congressional Republicans to offer the initiative as an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s health proposal.
More than a decade later, Heritage boosted former Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) health reform law and the individual mandate included in it, describing the requirement as “one that is clearly consistent with conservative values.” A Heritage health care analyst said Romney’s proposal would reform the state’s “uncompensated-care payment system,” force residents to take “personal responsibility” for their health care and prevent them from simply showing up “in emergency rooms.”
Indeed, DeMint himself backed the effort when he endorsed Romney for president in 2008.
“That’s something that I think we should do for the whole country,” DeMint told Fox News. “And the governor just looked at the numbers like a good businessman and realized that we could give people private insurance policies cheaper than we could provide free health care.”
The so-called “free” care at emergency rooms is a result of The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act or (EMTALA), which requires hospitals that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to treat patients for emergency medical conditions regardless of legal status or ability to pay. But EMTALA only applies to medical emergencies like heart attacks or serious injury. It does not offer any treatment for chronic conditions, leaving the millions of Americans with diabetes who need regular access to medication to stay alive, or asthma patients, or women diagnosed with breast cancer without access to care.
Studies also show that not all emergency room patients have equal outcomes. The uninsured who suffer “traumatic injuries, such as car crashes, falls and gunshot wounds, were almost twice as likely to die in the hospital as similarly injured patients with health insurance.”