One of the most radical opponents of health care reform is Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA). He has said that a public option would "kill people." Last Tuesday, Broun was confronted by a constituent at a health care town hall who explained that he has has gone into debt because he can’t afford insurance for his major depressive disorder. In response to his constituent’s story, Broun said that "people who have depression, who have chronic diseases in this country ... can always get care in this country by going to the emergency room." That comment prompted boos from the crowd. Towards the end of Broun’s answer, a constituent yelled, "That’s why we need a public option!" which brought cheers from the audience.
Broun's comment about emergency rooms is pretty common fare from the opponents of healthcare reform. No one in America is without healthcare, they say, because the sick can always go to an emergency room. Plenty of people have explained why that argument is indefensible. Letting medical conditions escalate until they need emergency room care is dangerous and often fatal. Using emergency rooms for primary care drives up the costs for the whole healthcare system. Emergency room workers are overworked enough without having to deal with non-emergency situations and further overtaxing them means fewer resources for real emergencies. I'm sure you can add more to that list.
Broun deserves our contempt in general for using the emergency room argument, but he deserves a double and triple dose of our contempt for using it in this context. The top level of his statement is extremely irresponsible: "people ... who have chronic diseases ... can always get care in this country by going to the emergency room." The very nature of chronic diseases is that they are, you know, chronic. They come back again and again and need regular monitoring by the same physician, not by whoever happens to be in the room at the time. Is he really saying that diabetics or people with glaucoma should, or even could, get their tests done in an emergency room?
Most people will see this story and see it as just another case of a Republican congressman being a jerk by telling a worried constituent to go to the emergency room and get over it. It might be worth adding to a greatest hits video, but otherwise it doesn't even rise to the outrage of the day. At best, if today had been a slower news day, this might have been worth some faux outrage and demands for apology. Maybe that is all that it it is in the broader perspective of the healthcare debate. And, treating it as the fill-in-the-blank outrage du jour would have been doing the reality of depression a great injustice. The same can probably be said about every condition that has been mocked and diminished by the anti's "get thee to an emergency room" dismissals and the pro's "I'm shocked you said whatever it was you just said" cynical coup counting. Just as throwing the words "fascism" and "holocaust" around mock and diminish the reality of Fascism and the Holocaust, so too does using real medical conditions as political volleyballs obscure the reality of people suffering from those conditions.
This isn't a game, you bastards.
Update: To make my point clearer, I've removed an incoherent paragraph that specifically dealt with depression and made it into a separate post.