ER no substitute for insurance

For most Americans, health care is an issue of some poignancy

In 2008, I met a grad student who was volunteering for Obama. The availability of health care was an especially poignant issue for her; she had just been diagnosed with cancer. Ineligible for health insurance at any price, affordable medical care was beyond her financial reach. Her only alternative was to beg for contributions on the street, hoping to collect enough to save her life.

She comes to mind when I hear people condemning the president's Affordable Health Care Initiative. I thought of her again the other night when candidate Romney blithely denied that people actually do die in America for lack of affordable health care. Romney said that “apartment dwellers can always go to the E.R. and get immediate care for their heart attacks.” Romney actually said aloud that, for people unable to afford basic medical services, the E.R. is a reasonable substitute for regular medical care.

Imagine if that student-volunteer showed up one day in the ER and announced that she was ready to begin chemotherapy. Of course, it would not happen because the ER is not intended to provide continuing care for chronic conditions. Nor is ER treatment inexpensive. You will be billed. If you cannot pay, your failure will contribute to the upwardly spiraling medical costs that must be covered by others. I suggest we stop calling it “ER” and always spell it out: “EMERGENCY Room.”

Obama, and those in Congress who stood with him to pass the Affordable Care Act, tried to deliver a policy that extended coverage to all Americans, even those with pre-existing conditions. The new law was careful not threaten the private sector insurance industry. And yet it has been consistently opposed by Republicans whose stated desire is to repeal the entire law. Our present system rations health care by denying medical services to those unable to purchase insurance. It is a moral travesty and we stand alone as the only country in the western world not to guarantee access to affordable health care to every citizen.

My vote goes to the party who takes the issue seriously. For some, time is running out.

Larry Bollinger is retired from broadcasting and loves his grandsons. Reach him at

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