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This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:

When Congressman Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told a Meridian town hall forum “I do not believe that health care is a basic right,” he was wrong.

He failed to mention the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986. That Reagan-era law is the reason anyone in the United States has a “basic right” to walk into virtually any hospital emergency room and get help.

Of course, such treatment is expensive—especially if the patient puts off seeking preventive care earlier when his ailment is less serious—and it offers little in the way of continuing therapy.

So the question is not whether the right to health care exists, but how to manage it—and how to pay the costs.

Friday, Labrador came to Lewiston for a town hall and started matching wits with an ER nurse who said some of the people who availed themselves of care at the hospital died because they waited too long.

“That line is so indefensible,” Labrador said. “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

How could he say that?

Does he not know about 36-year-old Jenny Steinke of Idaho Falls? Without health insurance, she put off seeing a doctor for her asthma. Two years ago, a crisis sent her to the emergency room, where she died three days later.

Where has he been while Idaho debated whether to extend Medicaid to 78,000 low-income working adults? Year after year, physicians—including the critical care director who tried to help Steinke, Kenneth Krell of Idaho Falls—noted how a lack of preventive care was behind more stories just like Steinke’s.

For instance, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2012 that extending Medicaid to people helped enough of them get treatment for chronic health challenges, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or mental illness, to prevent 19.6 premature deaths per 100,000 adults.

That would translate to 321 Idahoans a year.

A follow-up in the American Journal of Health Economics found even more improvement as people acquired and used health insurance. The death rate dropped to 22.5 per 100,000 adults.

In Idaho, that means 368 more people living every year.

And what happens to the roughly 87,000 Idahoans who could lose the subsidized health care Obamacare provided them due to the GOP health care bill Labrador and a majority of his colleagues passed Thursday?

How many of them will suffer premature deaths?

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As a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Labrador is responsible for the latest version of a health care bill that undermines coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Last winter, Boise State University’s public policy survey found 87.4 percent wanted to leave those Obamacare provisions intact.

Had Labrador stayed more in touch, the 1st District congressman might have recognized he’s out of sync with his constituents.

By Saturday, Labrador was clarifying his remarks, which he conceded were not “very elegant.”

What he meant to say, the congressman said, was that “nobody dies” because they have access to health care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986.

So first Labrador asserted there was no basic right to health care in the United States.

Next he proclaimed nobody dies for lack of health care.

Then he conceded nobody will die because the federal government safeguards a basic right to health care for people who are in crisis.

Is the congressman trying to confuse us?

Or is he just confused?

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