Let doctors be doctors

In a story published in last Sunday’s New York Times, physicians currently serving in Congress shared their views on healthcare reform. While they agreed that changes to the current system were needed, they differed on which reforms were most important.

But the sentiment of one physician, Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, seemed to sum up the core interest of doctors. “Interference from both insurance companies and the federal government have really worn down the practicing physician,” he said.

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That, in essence, is the driving force behind President Obama’s health insurance reform effort.

Time and again, the president has made clear that any proposal worthy of his signature would allow those who like the coverage they have to keep it, and would protect their choice of doctor. Under his plan, the only changes those Americans would see are lower costs and more stable coverage.

That’s not to say that the plan currently being crafted by the White House and Congress will please everyone. Some on the left would prefer to see more sweeping change — like converting the current employer-based healthcare system to a government-run, single-payer model. But the Democratic plan explicitly rejects that proposal — despite the bogus claims of opponents intent on killing reform of any kind.

But note the other half of Dr. Burgess’s concern — the notion that insurance companies have grown so powerful that they inhibit a doctor’s ability to do his or her job. It’s a stinging rebuke to the current system, and it comes not from a liberal Democrat, but a conservative Republican who endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in last year’s presidential campaign.

I don’t know how Burgess will ultimately vote this year. But his words should serve as a wake-up call to those politicians who think that opposing insurance reform comes without a price.

There is a steep cost to doing nothing to fix the current system — and it extends beyond the soaring premiums crushing employers and the skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs bankrupting families. It’s a whittling-away of the doctor-patient relationship — a system that offers massive profits to insurance companies that wield fine print like a weapon to deny patients care.

That is a fear every American can appreciate, even those who are pleased with their current plan. At what point will a pre-existing condition mean you are either locked into your current job for life or are unable to find new coverage if faced with an unplanned move or sudden layoff? When insurance companies fail to cover the care that could keep you healthy, is it sufficient consolation to know that you’ll be covered once you’re diagnosed with an avoidable disease? What happens when your doctor is no longer in your network, or your employer switches to a plan that’s significantly less generous than your current one?

We heard plenty of talk about “government-run healthcare” from extremist opponents of reform. But they’re silent about their own plan to preserve the status quo, as insurance companies strip even more power from patients and physicians.

Quality healthcare means rejecting both extremes in this debate — closing the door to a government takeover of healthcare and reversing the alarming advance of insurance-company control over medical decisions.

It’s letting a doctor be a doctor. And that’s exactly what the Democratic plan will do.



Del Cecato is a partner at AKPD Message and
Media, the political consulting firm founded by David
Axelrod in 1985. He served as media adviser and admaker for Obama for America and Obama-Biden 2008.

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