Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trouble In Mitt Romney's Socialist Hospital Paradise

In 2010 Romney himself acknowledged the need for Obama's health care law (before he began pursuing the Republican presidential nomination):

"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, particularly if they are people who have sufficient means to pay their own way."

Trouble In Mitt Romney's Socialist Hospital Paradise
Arthur Delaney and Jamieson
Huff Post

In the early hours of May 1, D.C. bartender Mike Boone came to the aid of a young woman who was being mugged.

Boone had offered to walk her home from the bar, Trusty's on Capitol Hill, since the immediate neighborhood is not known for having the safest streets at night. A man jumped from behind some bushes and grabbed the woman's purse. Boone also grabbed it, and the two men started fighting.

"We were punching each other pretty hard," Boone recalled. It wasn't until blood gushed from his body and the woman screamed that the bartender realized what had really happened.

"He was punching me with a knife," Boone said.

Boone passed out on the sidewalk. He woke up the next day in a hospital bed, recovering from eight stab wounds and a collapsed lung.

Like nearly 50 million other Americans, Boone lacked health insurance. A pre-existing condition -- in his case, a broken back he suffered in 1993 -- prevented him from obtaining affordable coverage. President Barack Obama's health care law prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, but that reform doesn't go into effect for adults until 2014.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the health care law entirely if he's elected. In America, Romney has said, we don't let people die in the street simply because they lack health insurance: Hospitals are there to care for the uninsured.

"We don't have a setting across this country where if you don't have insurance, we just say to you, 'Tough luck, you're going to die when you have your heart attack,'" Romney said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch on Oct. 11. "No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it's paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital."

Indeed, the health care system did not let Boone bleed to death on the sidewalk. But it did bury him in life-altering debt. After four days in the hospital and two surgeries, the 39-year-old -- hailed as a hero on Capitol Hill and beyond for his actions -- is staring at $60,000 in medical bills so far. And they haven't stopped rolling in.

Well-wishers, moved by media reports of his story, have donated $17,000 to help Boone cover his expenses, and he's hoping a public fund for crime victims could defray as much as $25,000 more. But Boone, who said he expects to earn only about $15,000 this year, figures he'll still be looking at nearly $20,000 in debt, all for risking his life for a fellow human being.

His story is one that plays out with troubling regularity in the bar-and-restaurant business, where a high quotient of workers go without health coverage. Post-tragedy fundraisers are common in the industry. The events serve as vivid examples of the private sector's safety net in action.

These fundraisers can defray some of the costs of emergency care, as they have done for Boone, but often they don't provide nearly enough. Paying for health care isn't as efficient or just as Romney suggests. Instead, much of the cost is borne by health care providers and insurers and, ultimately, the insured. We all pay.

"At first, I was like, man, this is really great, this could take care of it," Boone said of the charity he has received. "And then the big bills started coming."


Douglas Zehner is the senior vice president and chief financial officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in northwest Washington, where Boone was treated. He said Medstar gave $22.1 million worth of care to uninsured or underinsured patients and forgave $85.1 million in debt last year. But that charity isn't free. The only way the hospital can recoup its losses, Zehner said, is by negotiating with private insurance providers for higher prices, a process known as "cost-shifting."

"I have to price my services with insurance carriers because that’s the only group I'm even in the room talking to about how much they're going to pay me for my services," Zehner said. "So the way the cost-shifting works is you basically back into how much [money] you need to run that service [for all patients] and apply it to the expected number of people that are coming in that have insurance to get that service."

The fewer people who have insurance, the greater the burden on those who do have coverage. In order to cover the costs of treating the uninsured, premiums go up. The American Hospital Association estimated that U.S. hospitals performed $39.3 billion worth of uncompensated care in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available. That's 5.8 percent of total expenses.

This is a problem that Obama's health care law seeks to address and one that Romney himself has acknowledged in the past, before he began pursuing the Republican presidential nomination.

"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, particularly if they are people who have sufficient means to pay their own way," he said in 2010.

In 2007, he used even starker language: "When [uninsured people] show up at the hospital, they get care. They get free care paid for by you and me. If that's not a form of socialism, I don't know what is."...

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