Republican Congresswoman Diane Black from Tennessee doesn’t think that emergency rooms should be forced to see every patient that walks through their doors. Black claims that her stance is based on the increased cost to hospitals from admitting people without insurance, but the law that forces emergency rooms to see all patients was done to prevent racist screening of patients before they are seen by doctors. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins explains.


Republican Congresswoman Diane Black from the state of Tennessee recently told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that she does not believe that emergency rooms in the United States should be forced to see all of the sick people that come through their doors. According to Black, who says that she was an emergency room nurse for a number of years, she said that there are plenty of times when people come into the emergency room for non-emergency things, and that it drives up healthcare costs for everybody else, and the doctor should be able to say “No, we’re not going to see you. You need to go to a walk-in clinic or your regular doctor, or something like that.”

To an extent, technically, Diane Black is a little bit right in that regard, but let’s go ahead and take a look back at the history as to why emergency rooms in the United States are forced to see everyone that comes through their doors, even if they’d rather not. Even if they think that this person has such a minor illness or injury that they should just wait and go to their regular doctor. It’s because in 1986, former Republican President Ronald Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which basically in a nutshell, says that emergency rooms cannot turn anyone away from their doors. You come through that door, say you need to see a doctor, they’re legally required to see you and evaluate you.

Do you know why they did that? Because hospitals around the country prior to that were turning away people because they were poor, because they didn’t have health insurance, or in many cases according to studies, because the patient was black. So this law that forces emergency rooms to see people is not just because they have a duty to help sick people, which you would think that would be enough to say, “Yeah okay we’ll see you no matter what.” No. It’s because hospital administrators, at least [admitters 00:02:10] were being openly racist, and classist by turning away poor people and people who didn’t have health insurance. At least Ronald Reagan, your Republican savior, who you guys talk about all the time as the greatest ever, had enough sense to understand, you know what, this is wrong. It is absolutely wrong to turn these people away based on their financial status, or the color of their skin, because they need help. They can’t otherwise, go to a doctor. They may not even have a family doctor. And we know damn well that family doctors are far less likely to schedule an appointment for someone who does not have health insurance. So this is a needed piece of legislation.

And yeah, there is some evidence that says that we the American public makes up those costs that we have to pay for people who go to the emergency room and do not have health insurance. But isn’t that more of a reason why we should have some kind of, I don’t know, universal healthcare in this country? Because we’re already paying for it anyway? We’re already paying for the people who do not have health insurance. We’re paying for the people who can’t pay their medical bills. Why not put that money, instead of putting it towards hospitals, put it towards a universal healthcare system, or a medicare for all type system? We’re all still paying for it, let’s use it to give people insurance instead of boosting the profits of hospitals. To me, that makes a little bit more sense than being able to come out and say, “You know what, hospitals, you just don’t have to see poor people anymore if you don’t want to. You don’t have to see people if they’re black, or Muslim, or whatever. You can just turn them away, you don’t have to worry about recouping the cost from that later.”

No, that is not how this system should work. Much like politicians, doctors basically take an oath. An oath of their profession. To do no harm, to care for the sick. And that is exactly what they’re doing, and that is what this piece of legislation that was signed by Ronald Reagan, helped force them to do. Take money out of the equation and focus on helping those in need. But that’s not something Republicans are able to do. They don’t understand the phrase “take money out of the equation” because the Republicans, especially the people like Congresswoman Diane Black, every single issue in this country is related to money, and how much money either the politician themselves can make, or how much money they can help another business pull in.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced