Back in May, an angry constituent asked Congressmen Raul Labrador why he voted for the Republican House Healthcare Bill, that the constituent claimed would cause people to die for lack of Medicaid funding. The Freedom Caucus member shot back with a now infamous retort: “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare.” Amidst backlash over what he now describes as an inelegant statement, Labrador tried to clarify his remarks: “I was trying to explain that all hospitals are required by law to treat patients in need of emergency care regardless of their ability to pay, and that the Republican plan does not change that.”
But Labrador forgot to mention that, although hospitals are required to treat emergently ill patients regardless of ability to pay, they are also allowed to bill those patients for that care. That means people without insurance often find themselves either avoiding emergency rooms altogether, or driving long distances to hospitals known for being more forgiving of medical debt. Labrador overlooked the life-threatening risks that financially strapped people take to keep out of medical debt.
Insurance sometimes saves lives by enabling people to get emergency care close to home, without fear of financial insolvency.
This travel-and-die phenomenon is not what most insurance enthusiasts think about when they say insurance improves health. Instead, they talk about how insurance makes people more likely to receive the primary care that prevents life threatening illnesses – mammograms and colonoscopies; blood pressure pills and flu shots.