Gov. Nathan Deal this week proposed changing the longstanding federal law that requires emergency rooms to treat anyone who walks in, saying people who “consider the emergency room as their family physician” could undermine the health care network.
The governor’s surprise remarks, which came Monday night at a University of Georgia political science alumni gathering, rankled critics who are already frustrated by Deal’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
“This is the basic firewall against turning away people who have an emergent need for medical attention. It’s the bare minimum we can do as a society to prevent people from needlessly dying,” said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a group that is critical of Deal’s health care policy.
“To undo this at the same time that Georgia is turning down the federal funds on the table to expand Medicaid and provide some other form of access to the health care system – it’s problematic.”
But Deal said it is past time for Congress to rework the 1986 law that requires hospitals to provide emergency treatment. Such changes are essential, said Deal, if Americans “really want to get serious about lowering health care costs in this country.”
“It came as a result of bad facts,” Deal said of the law Monday night. “And we have a saying that bad facts make bad law.”
Jason Carter, an Atlanta state senator who seeks to challenge Deal in the fall, said the governor was simply wrong.
“It’s not a solution to any real problem,” Carter said. “We’re not going to just turn people out on to the streets. Our hospitals have a moral obligation to treat people when they show up. That’s not a legitimate way of solving the problem.”