No free health care

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Now that the presidential election of 2012 is history, the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – should be over, too.


With a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and Barack Obama in the White House for four more years, repeal is out of the question. But that doesn’t mean the law should remain the way it is.


Obamacare will make health insurance available to many more Americans, but it doesn’t do nearly enough to bring down the high cost of health care. Congress needs to agree on ways to do that.


It is a misconception that the poor and uninsured in this country receive free care at emergency rooms. Mitt Romney, in his bid for the presidency, helped perpetuate that myth. Asked on CBS’ “60 Minutes” what he would do about Americans who lack health insurance, Romney replied that the country already had a system in place for them: emergency rooms. “We pick them up in an ambulance and take them to the hospital and give them care,” he said.


According to the Los Angeles Times, Romney took a much different but equally misinformed view two years earlier, saying in a televised interview: “Look, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care, for which they have no responsibility.”


Emergency room care is not free. If you are uninsured and go to the emergency room, you will not be denied care, but you certainly will get a bill. You’ll be charged several hundred dollars just for checking in, let alone being seen by a doctor. An examination, an EKG and a CAT scan later, and you’ll have run up a tab of several thousand dollars, and the hospital will come after you for payment. It’s no different from any other bill you must pay.


When patients have no insurance and no money at all, the hospital is forced to pass along the loss in the form of higher fees for its services. So we all pay more for treatment, in addition to higher health insurance premiums.


Bringing down the cost of health care must start with making preventive care more available to more people so that emergency-room visits are no longer as necessary and no longer the only option for millions of Americans.


There is no free lunch, and there is no free health care. But we can make it more affordable if our representatives in Washington, D.C., will grow up and learn to cooperate.


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