The American College of Emergency Physicians criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for suggesting during a television interview that the uninsured can get the care they need when they need it at hospital emergency departments.
"Emergency care is not health insurance," Dr. David Seaberg, president of the ACEP, said in a news release
. "All patients need health insurance that gives them access to primary-care doctors and medical specialists, as well as high-quality emergency care. However, our healthcare system is failing, because even patients with health insurance are having trouble getting timely access to their primary-care physicians. When their medical conditions worsen, they seek emergency care."
He added: "Emergency departments have become a healthcare safety net for everyone, but that safety net is breaking. If you continue to take emergency care for granted and don't support it, it eventually won't be there for anyone."
Romney was asked in a Sept. 23 interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" whether the government has a responsibility to provide healthcare for the 50 million Americans who are uninsured.
"Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance," Romney said, according to a transcript. "If someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance and take them to the hospital and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care."
According to the transcript, "60 Minutes" reporter Scott Pelley noted that the emergency room is the most expensive setting to provide care, and Seaberg took Pelley to task for continuing "to perpetuate myths" about the cost of emergency care—a point that the ACEP has been responding to regularly
for the past several years
"Emergency care represents less than 2% of the nation's healthcare dollar," Seaberg said in the release. "And the reality is, most people seeking emergency care are having medical emergencies. Even Medicaid patients are coming with urgent or serious symptoms."
The consumer group Families USA also criticized Romney and then repeated the line about expensive emergency care.
“Gov. Romney has shown both a huge change in judgment, as well as an even larger lapse in judgment, when he suggests that care in hospital emergency rooms is a satisfactory way to deal with the almost 50 million people without health coverage today," Ron Pollack, founding executive director of Families USA, said in a news release
. "Emergency-room care is not only the most expensive form of healthcare, it is also the worst way of delivering healthcare. We should strive to provide preventive and primary care for everyone so we can avoid heart attacks or deal with possible tumors or other health problems before, not after, they become emergencies."