In recent days, Joe Lhota has discussed the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, on several occasions. His primary focus has been to denounce House Republicans for demanding defunding of Obamacare in exchange for ending the federal government shutdown. While doing so, however, Lhota has repeatedly returned to a discredited notion: that health care, and health insurance, reform isn’t really necessary because all New Yorkers have access to health care via hospital emergency rooms. It’s a point that many elected Republicans, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney among them, have tried to make.
In reality, the fact that many Americans have hospital emergency rooms as their only health care option is one of the big drivers of the need for broad changes in our health care system. So-called “free riders” who use, but don’t pay for, the health care system, are an enormous financial burden to insureds and taxpayers. The problem is exacerbated by the frequent situation that free riders tend to not have access to preventative care, and only seek health care in a hospital emergency room once they’ve developed a serious condition, resulting in higher costs. Those higher costs are, of course, borne by others.
So yes, it’s true that we provide health care to all via our public hospitals. But it’s not true that it’s free. Paying for those unable to pay or obtain insurance themselves is part of the problem, not the solution.