WE the People
By Susan Wilder, MD*
On a beautiful fall day in Washington, DC, President Obama convened over 100 physicians and medical students in the White House Rose Garden to emphasize physician’s role in healthcare reform and call us to action. Physicians, selected due to our efforts on health reform over many years, came from every state of the union, representing multiple specialties, with diverse backgrounds and even more diverse opinions. Despite our differences, we all agree upon the need for meaningful comprehensive healthcare reform this year as our collective “patient,” the healthcare system, is gravely ill with systemic diseases that have festered for far too long. Family Doctors were solidly represented from Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Oregon, Montana, Missouri, and Arizona along with the American Academy of Family Physician leaders, President Ted Epperly, President-elect Lori Heim and Past-President Jim King. President Obama reminds us that organizations representing half a million physicians stand in support of healthcare reform.
Who was there was unimportant relative to what was there; a spirit of “we are the soul of healthcare and we must act now.” The President emphasized with his words, his priorities, and his precious time that our voice in critical to this debate and he needs us for moral support and guidance as much as we need his solid leadership to carry us through this challenging issue. With numerous critical domestic challenges on his plate from economic disaster to global warming, he is hanging his presidency on reforming the healthcare system, a politically thankless task but one that those of us on the front lines of healthcare truly appreciate as a moral, humane, and economic imperative.
In medicine, the best physicians are not the ones that simply order everything their patients want, they educate, negotiate and gain consensus on a course in the patient’s best interest at times in contradiction to the patient’s initial wishes. So too, should we respect those legislators on both sides of the aisle who have committed to the arduous and politically risky task of systematically researching, evaluating and developing a therapeutic plan, sometimes in conflict with what their constituents believe. As in medicine, the legislation coming forward is simply a starting block, which will be altered over the course of time as we learn what works and what doesn’t. Are the current plans better than the status quo? If perfect is the enemy of good, can your patients or your practices afford to wait another 16 years to tackle this issue again?
Certainly there is room for healthy skepticism. The President did assure us we were heard regarding the need for tort reform and repeal of the Medicare SGR. Imagine what a nation we would be if all the negative energy, rage, and fear around this issue were channeled instead into productive efforts to bolster our nation and its citizens. A Republican legislator I highly respect reminded me, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life – the children; those who are in the twilight of life – the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life – the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” How will we be judged?
A patient recently noted, without health…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are nothing but hollow dreams. This debate seems interminable. Indeed I’ve been actively engaged in it through many administrations spanning most of my career. This is an endurance event that will change the shape of medical practice for many years to come. Your voice is critical. Let’s see this through the finish line by doing our homework, hearing arguments on every side, engaging in problem solving ourselves and activating our patients. As the heart and soul of medicine, we are the people. Our patients, our colleagues, our President, and our nation needs every one of us committed to a better system right now.