GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney repeated an oft-heard yet false conservative claim that nobody in the United States dies because they lack health insurance.
Romney's remarks came during a Wednesday interview with the editorial board of the Columbus Dispatch. The former Massachusetts governor, who presided over the implementation of a landmark health care reform scheme in that state, reiterated his intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, if he is elected.
While not providing full details about what, if anything, he would replace Obamacare with, Romney said that uninsured Americans would have the opportunity to choose to be covered without fear of denial.
"You have to deal with those people who are currently uninsured, and help them have the opportunity to have insurance," Romney said.
"But then once people have all had that opportunity to become insured, if someone chooses not to become insured, and waits 10 or 20 years and then gets ill and then says 'Now I want insurance,' you could hardly say to an insurance company, 'Oh, you must take this person now that they're sick,' or there'd literally be no reason to have insurance,'" he continued.
"It'd be the same thing as saying, 'Look, you're not required to have homeowners insurance, but if your home catches fire, then you can get insurance at that point.' That wouldn't make a lot of sense."
Romney did not say how those who have difficulty affording or cannot afford health insurance but did not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare were supposed to obtain coverage. He did, however, dismiss the notion that Americans are dying due to lack of insurance.
"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,'" he said.
"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. We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance," he added, pointing out that hospitals are required by federal law to treat uninsured patients-- often at great expense.
But Romney's assertion that no one dies from lack of insurance is refuted by some of the most prominent medical authorities in the nation. Harvard Medical School, for example, estimates that 45,000 annual American deaths-- one every 12 minutes-- is attributable to a lack of health insurance.
"The uninsured have a higher risk of death when compared to the privately insured, even after taking into account socioeconomics, health behaviors and baseline health," said Andrew Wilper, MD, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "We doctors have many new ways to prevent deaths from hypertension, diabetes and heart disease-- but only if patients can get into our offices and afford their medications."
The Harvard study is but one of many that concluded the risk of death is significantly higher for the uninsured than for those with health insurance.
In 2009, former US Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) set up a website to memorialize the tens of thousands of Americans who die from lack of insurance.
There are around 48 million uninsured Americans, or roughly one out of every 6.5 people. That number has decreased significantly since portions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect last year. But according to the Huffington Post, repealing Obamacare would deny access to health coverage for some 30 million people who would have otherwise received it.