Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says that thanks to hospitals, Americans who lack health insurance don't have it so bad.
"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,'" Romney told The Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday, explaining why repealing President Obama's health care reform law would not result in catastrophe for sick people who can't buy insurance.
"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," Romney continued. "We don't have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance."
Lianne Valenti said she finds Romney's comment "frightening."
Valenti, who is 47 and lives in Long Beach, Calif., knows what Romney's talking about better than Romney does, thanks to firsthand experience. She lost her job last year, and her health insurance along with it. In the fall, she started feeling mild chest pains. Researching online, she figured the problem was gallstones. She tried cheap alternative remedies instead of going to the doctor.
The spasms of pain got worse and worse, until one night in January it became unbearable. "I was sitting here in my chair and it lasted for two hours," Valenti told The Huffington Post at the time. "It was all I could do to breathe. I couldn't open my eyes."
She had a friend take her to the hospital, where she said doctors told her she'd suffered a heart attack and almost died.
"If I had had my insurance I would have gone to the doctor in October," Valenti said. "The pain was unbearable. I've never had pain like that, and I've had three children."
She received a $79,000 bill, but she said the hospital has negotiated reasonably -- meaning it will eat some of the cost of her emergency treatment, and some of the cost will be passed along to other patients in the form of higher prices.
Before he became the Republican presidential nominee and vowed to repeal President Obama's health care law, Romney often bemoaned the cost of treating uninsured people in emergency rooms.
"When they show up at the hospital, they get care," Romney said in 2007. "They get free care paid for by you and me. If that's not a form of socialism, I don't know what is."
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney championed a health care law requiring state residents to buy insurance while subsidizing the cost for poorer people. Romney's law, which has reduced emergency rooms visits, served as a blueprint for Obamacare.
Numerous studies have suggested that thousands of Americans die prematurely every year for lack of health insurance. Nearly 50 million are uninsured.
Romney's comment brought to Valenti's mind the recently reported death of an apparently homeless woman outside city hall in Long Beach. Police called it an "undetermined death," according to the Long Beach Post.
In an email on Thursday, Valenti said, "The truth is she died because she couldn't afford to live, which should never happen in America."