GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer claims emergency rooms are “universal health care”


Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer is spreading dangerous lies about health care access, giving his constituents wrong information in order to bolster the GOP's health care repeal goals.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) has repeatedly and falsely claimed that a law mandating hospital emergency rooms provide care to anyone who needs it is the same thing as "universal health care" — a cruel interpretation of the law that has become an article of faith for Republicans.

Cramer, who may run against Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp in 2018, made his statement in at least four appearances over the last two weeks.

At a town hall meeting, he told constituents, "We have universal health care access because we require by law and by tradition and by compassion that any person that walks into an emergency room receives care."

In another appearance, Cramer said, "In the early '80's or mid-'80's we...passed a law requiring health care for everybody in the United States of America. That was 30 plus years ago. So that means no one can be turned down for care."

He also made the claim in two radio interviews, and at another town hall meeting, as repeated justification for his vote in favor of the Republicans' health care repeal plan, which would strip health insurance from at least 24 million Americans.

CRAMER: Back in the 1980s, actually, when Ronald Reagan was President we — the country passed universal healthcare by, you know, guaranteeing that no one would be denied health care. So, we've had it since the 1980s, this mandate. It's just that how you pay for it has always been the sticking point. So, most people, for a long time it was through the emergency room, and that's very expensive care. And that burden is then passed on to other people who have insurance and drives up costs.

Cramer is citing a 1986 law which mandates emergency room treatment for anyone who needs it, but the law does not cover care before or after an emergency room visit.

And no matter how many times Republicans say it, emergency room care is not health care.

Laws like the Affordable Care Act understand this, and provide for health care access so doctors and other health care professionals can catch illnesses before they become so severe that an emergency room visit is needed.

The goal of preventative medicine is to save money in the long run, but more importantly to prevent pain and long-term suffering. Catching someone before they have a heart attack is obviously preferable to an emergency room visit for cardiac arrest, for instance.

Furthermore, the emergency room is useless for diseases that need ongoing treatment, like cancer, diabetes, and end-stage renal disease. The emergency room cannot provide chemotherapy or ongoing dialysis that hundreds of thousands of Americans need to survive.

Universal health care is a system that provides health care to all citizens, regardless of income. That means in all phases of care, not just when things are so critical or life-threatening that emergency services are needed.

An actual universal system of care does not yet exist in the United States, and Cramer is lying to his constituents when he says otherwise.