It only took about eight minutes of an hour-long debate to make it crystal clear that neither of the Republican candidates for Utah’s open seat in the U.S. Senate should hold public office ever again.

Their ignorance of health care policy is deep, willful and, unless you are healthy or rich, literally threatens your life.

On the surface, that may be kind of a surprise. One of the candidates, Mitt Romney, implemented one of the most intelligent and successful health care reforms since Medicare when he was governor of Massachusetts, a package sometimes called (usually in derision) Romneycare.

The other, Mike Kennedy, is a practicing physician. Though I can’t imagine ever being sick enough to want him anywhere near me.

As befits its importance as a critical public policy issue, Tuesday’s Utah Debate Commission meeting between the two candidates got to the issue of health care early on.

Romney was the first to thoroughly embarrass himself, reacting to a global rating that places France at the top of the health care quality stack and the United States near the bottom.

“If people in France get real sick,” Romney said, “they come here.”

If they are very rich. Which, once again, seems to be the only status Mr. 47 Percent cares about. Otherwise, most of the French are happy to take advantage of a First World health care system that undoubtedly has its flaws, but doesn’t leave anyone the choice of bankruptcy, death, or both.

That only happens here.

Romney’s point that health care pricing should be more transparent is a good one. But, again, that only matters if you are rich and if you are suffering from a malady that allows time for comparison shopping.

Romney is right that people who don’t have insurance shift the cost burden to those who do. When his state — when his state was Massachusetts — did something, that was the point. And it may be why he really believes his argument that health care policy should be made at the state, not the federal, level.

It worked in Massachusetts. But it hasn’t worked in Utah.

Here, our elected leaders have have bent over backwards to not solve any of the problems of people not having access to health care, personifying Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic as, “A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

Among those leaders is Dr. Kennedy. Who is also state Rep. Kennedy.

Last year, Kennedy was briefly and justly a target of widespread ridicule when he said that Utah was actually doing poor people a favor by not paying for them to stay in a hospital. Because people die in hospitals.

Of course they do. If they were hale and hardy they wouldn’t have been in the hospital in the first place. And too many people die in hospitals because sometimes someone who works there can get sloppy with their housekeeping or surgical practices and cause infections that otherwise would never have occurred.

But when you need a hospital, you need a hospital. And nobody is going to thank the Utah Legislature for keeping that option out of their reach.

In the debate, Kennedy also repeated maybe the most damnable lie abroad in the land when he argued that access to health care in the United States, or in Utah, is not an issue.

“People already have access,” Kennedy said. “They can go to any emergency department throughout the country and have access as they need it.”

Nobody who believes that should be permitted to take part in this discussion.

It.

Is.

A.

Lie.

A lot of wonderful things happen in a modern U.S. emergency room. They have a lot of compassionate, highly trained doctors and nurses and orderlies, many of whom can run very fast. They have lots of expensive machines that go “Ping!” And, sadly, they have a great deal of practice treating people suffering from gunshot wounds, auto accidents and domestic violence.

But that’s not health care. That’s trauma care. There is no chemotherapy in the ER. No long-term maintenance of asthma or diabetes or other endocrine woes. Nothing for crippling arthritis or high-risk pre-natal care. Though, if things go badly enough, they might amputate your foot or attend your miscarriage.

And, while the ER nurse won’t stop you at the entrance due to inability to pay, the billing office may haunt you for the rest of your life, draining your bank account and wrecking your credit score.

As to the point that states should make health care policy, well, maybe.

Thanks to a couple of ballot initiatives that will be before us in November — one to fully expand Medicaid, the other to allow medical use of marijuana — the people of Utah can take steps that their medically illiterate leadership has failed to take.

Power to the people.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, self-medicates with dark beer and darker chocolate. gpyle@sltrib.com