EDITORIAL: Vindictive, Self-Serving Legislators Dawdle, Fail To Protect America’s Health

By  //  August 6, 2017

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it's time for congress to grow up and do their job

The American healthcare system is fundamentally broken and cannot be fixed with policy tweaks. Legislators on both sides of the aisle must recognize and address the fundamental problems that now plague the system and stop focusing on trying to make each other look bad, re-election and payback, but rather get busy doing their job to create a system that is keeping us healthy and does care.

Frustrated, disappointed, discouraged and embittered are the best adjectives to describe my and many Americans’ sentiments regarding the plight of improving the accessibility, affordability and value of healthcare in this country.

Despite the Affordable Care Act’s goals of containing costs and making health care affordable, it’s proven to be too expensive to be sustainable, overly complex and bureaucratic, and a gift to the private health insurance industry and other corporate stakeholders in the medical-industrial complex.

We are a nation divided. Our two major political parties agree on essentially nothing. Republicans cannot agree even amongst themselves how to proceed on healthcare reform.

It is demoralizing that as the Affordable Care Act is progressively collapsing, our elected leaders are unable to envision or agree upon any effective solutions.

Dr. Roy Benaroch, a Georgia pediatrician and well-known author, recently shared his thoughts about the disturbing state of Congressional healthcare reform efforts in a post entitled “Health Reform: It’s Time For Congress to Grow Up and Do Their Job” on the medical social media site KevinMD.com.

His commentary provides a bipartisan perspective that points out the basic problems that need to be recognized and addressed by legislators on both sides of the aisle, and challenges lawmakers to stop focusing on “trying to make each other look bad, re-election and payback” but rather get busy doing their job to create a system that is keeping us healthy and does care.

Inflated medical and hospital costs and drug prices must be brought under control as an integral element of healthcare reform.

Dr. Benaroch also calls out the healthcare industry in writing, “What we’ve got is more about hostile parties protecting their turf and income than a system that’s working together. The docs fight the insurance companies to get things covered; the patients fight the hospitals over inflated, inscrutable bills; the insurance companies fight the pharmaceutical companies over the eye-popping prices of new drugs. The people least suited to fight end up losing the most,” which is, of course, the patients.

My professional life was dedicated to providing healthcare services that best met the needs of patients, for 27 years as a clinical practitioner and another 10 years as a healthcare executive dedicated to improving the “system.”

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I am sorry to say that from my perspective the bottom-line patient experience in today’s healthcare environment has deteriorated over the years despite, and perhaps because of, what has been hailed as “system” improvements mostly driven by government regulation and the false notion that insurance “coverage” is the lynchpin of healthcare value.

Our Senators and Representatives were “hired” by “We the People” to use every resource at their disposal to fix the fine mess the U.S. “Health System” finds itself in. With any job goes performance expectations. Dr. Benaroch asks, “Ever get hired to do a job that you don’t do for 2 or 4 or 8 or 20 years? Did you keep that job?”

Senior Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) seem to find something to laugh about at a recent press conference. Their and their Senate and House colleagues’ failure to constructively address the dismal state of U.S. healthcare under the Affordable Care Act is certainly not a laughing matter.

Being “Fair and Balanced,” in Dr. Benaroch’s commentary he criticizes the approach of both political parties and in doing so hits on the most important and challenging aspects of the reform effort:

Democrats: Obamacare has problems. The insurance marketplaces in many places are collapsing, and premiums are going through the roof. Even people who have “insurance” often have huge deductibles that they can’t afford. In short: just having “insurance” isn’t the same as “having access to health care.”

Obamacare didn’t do a thing to rein in the biggest problem: health care costs too much, and too many people (sorry, “market stakeholders”) are chewing up huge slices of the pie without contributing anything useful to helping patients. I know you’re feeling hurt that you lost the last election, but can you please grow up, talk to the other side, and come up with some common ground to start to address the problems?

Democrats need to come to grips with the fact that Obamacare has failed. The insurance marketplaces in many places are collapsing, and premiums are going through the roof. After the Senate’s failure to pass Obamacare repeal, Republicans in Congress are under pressure to bail out the Obamacare exchanges, even as President Donald Trump threatens to let them collapse.

Republicans: The free market, alone, cannot save health care. The barriers to entry are too huge (it’s hard to become a doctor, harder to open up a company to manufacture medicines, and even harder to open up a hospital) — which means competition is artificially stunted, and won’t pop up automatically to reduce prices. Also, emergency departments are required, by law, to offer care to people who cannot pay; that’s morally the right thing, and don’t even think about removing this safety net. Health care choices are also difficult and fraught, and often made under the duress of pain and worry.

People cannot be expected to call around to different ambulance companies to check their prices when they’re experiencing crushing chest pain. You have to admit: Health care is unique, and you can’t depend on free market principles, alone, to fix it. The solution is going to include regulations and guidelines and (gasp) some guarantees of coverage, and might even require ways to rein in insurance companies, hospital, doctor, and pharmaceutical profits. I know you’re feeling giddy that you won the last election, but can you please grow up, talk to the other side, and come up with some common ground to start to address the problems?

No one ever said that it would be easy, but as long as our legislators continue to allow politics and self-serving matters to influence their efforts at constructive healthcare reform, it will be impossible. It’s time for Congress to grow up and do its job!

Republicans must realize that healthcare is extremely complex, unique, and you can’t depend on free market principles, alone, to fix it. The solution is going to include regulations and guidelines and some guarantees of coverage.

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