Editor’s note: The author will be part of a group of residents who’ll be rallying at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning near the Ann Arbor Farmers Market to show support for President Obama’s proposed healthcare reform plan, including its public insurance option.
As a primary care physician, I believe strongly that we need meaningful healthcare reform. In practicing for over 25 years, I have witnessed how impossible it is to get healthcare without insurance. And in the last 10 years I have seen an increasing number of my patients lose their insurance.
It saddens me that I can’t provide adequate care for them. It also has been alarming to me to see how easy it is to lose healthcare coverage, especially in these difficult economic times. It will only get worse without substantial reform. If nothing is done to reform healthcare, the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund predicts that over one-fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) will be spent on healthcare by the year 2020. And it won’t mean that more Americans are covered: that year, the number of uninsured is expected to rise to 61 million.
People who are complacent about the problems of the uninsured may be ignoring how vulnerable we all are when there is no promise of universal coverage. Some people lose coverage when they are laid off, some when their small company decides they can no longer afford covering healthcare benefits for their employees. I have patients who are retired but too young to qualify for Medicare who are told that their former employer has dropped healthcare coverage from their retirement benefits.
Still others, who have some insurance, find that they can’t afford the steeply rising premiums so they opt for a plan that only covers catastrophic illness; then they must pay for all clinic visits and preventive care out of pocket. Screening tests like colonoscopies are very expensive, so of course they choose not to do it. I have patients who struck out in their own promising new business only to be devastated by an illness or depleted of capital because of exorbitant premiums.
Perhaps most poignant for me as a mother of a 20-year-old is the plight of young adults who are trying to establish their careers, achieve financial independence, perhaps start a family. Many of them have beginning job positions that do not include healthcare coverage. If they get ill, they may never get ahead of their debt.
The scenario just gets sadder when you consider what happens when an uninsured person gets ill. I have a young patient who has osteomyelitis, a bone infection. Without insurance, she cannot afford the medicine she must take to keep it in check. Medicaid will be her only option for coverage – but she must spend all of her savings and become “medically indigent” in order to qualify. Plus she can’t have a job of any significance because she would then make too much money to continue getting Medicaid. She must choose to remain poor so that she can get healthcare – in what universe does this make sense?
Not long ago surveys showed that a majority of Americans agreed that we need healthcare reform. Now we hear of people’s fear of reform. What happened? Distortions and lies have successfully confused people and confounded the debate. Please don’t believe the manufactured lies. I’m a doctor – I can tell you they are untrue. There won’t be death panels, or socialized medicine, or federal funding of abortion. Medicare won’t be dissolved and there won’t be discrimination in healthcare determined by the government. If you want to know what the proposed bills really contain I encourage you to check out the facts and comparisons provided by The Kaiser Family Foundation website. Keep in mind that the American Nurses Association and even the conservative American Medical Association have endorsed President Obama’s reform agenda.
I cannot imagine anything more unethical than spreading lies in order to instill fear, then to use that fear to further one’s own avaricious goals – and in the process worsen access to healthcare for millions of Americans. This is what many insurance companies are doing. Their lobbyists in Washington provide congressmen with money as well as lies, they encourage disruption of town hall debates on reform, and, through phony “grassroots” groups they fund commercials and websites that spout dishonest propaganda. Then they pay for it all with the money we pay them in insurance premiums! What remarkable irony! The only thing more despicable is to be a congressman who has vowed to represent his constituents, who intentionally misleads, manipulates and frightens them to serve his own greed for power. It doesn’t get lower than that.
Cost projections by Commonwealth Fund have shown that the best way to start curbing health expenditures is to have a public option. Remember, dollars paid as a premium to Medicare are spent on healthcare. There is no money going toward profits, executives salaries, lobbyists, advertising, or routine auditing; therefore bureaucracy and overhead for Medicare are much less than for private insurers.
It is clear to me that the outcome we should be most afraid of is that which will occur if we do nothing. Then we will certainly have 1) rising percentage of our income paid for healthcare, 2) rising numbers of uninsured, 3) more small businesses failing, 4) decreasing ability of American industry to compete in the global market, and 5) rising inequity in income in the U.S. as executive salaries (from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, for example!) keep sky-rocketing while individual and small business income suffers. Don’t fear the ridiculous myths of death panels or baby killing. Be worried about what is happening now.
How do you counter lies with the truth when there is no respect given to the truth by the anti-reform gangs? I think there are many other voices, from both parties and outside the realm of politics, that can speak more responsibly and ethically. Let’s make the lies and the liars irrelevant. In the spirit of Ted Kennedy’s legacy of standing up for one’s principles yet choosing to work together, let’s open our minds and hearts and find solutions to this problem.
About the writer: Dr. Amy F. Saunders is a primary care physician practicing medicine at a clinic in Ann Arbor, caring for a large patient population. She received her MD degree from Ohio State University, did a fellowship in general internal medicine at Duke University Medical Center and received a masters degree in public health from the University of North Carolina.