I recently made yet another trip to Washington to make the case for meaningful healthcare reform. While Congress continues to play partisan politics, patients and doctors continue to suffer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, physician burnout is at an all-time high with nearly 50 percent of all physicians reporting experiencing the symptoms of burnout in the past three years. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2015 that 30 percent of young physicians had symptoms of depression or suicidal ideations. In fact, suicide accounts for 26 percent of deaths in physicians ages 25-39, compared to 11 percent of deaths in individuals of the same age in the general public.
For patients, frustrations continue to mount. Rising premiums, diminished choice (only one choice of insurer in nearly 23 percent of counties, and only one or two choices in 41 percent), and limited access have patients scrambling for their basic healthcare needs. Medicaid expansion has not happened in more than one-third of the states and many are left uninsured, while millions more are underinsured.
Medicine continues to focus on the treatment of disease rather than on the prevention. Patients are not getting proven screening therapies and many cannot afford necessary medication due to rising costs. Clearly, something must be done. Healthcare is on the verge of a major collapse: Poor care, poor access, and likely physician shortages are looming.
Dr. Campbell goes to Washington
I began making phone calls about a month before my visit in order to set up meetings with key congressional influencers and leaders. I was able to secure a few meetings and set off for Washington. On Capitol Hill, I was amazed by the general lack of interest in the healthcare debate (other than when cameras are rolling for the mainstream media). Capitol Hill offices were buzzing, but about more hearings on Russia and the Republican tax reform framework. Almost no one was interested in discussing healthcare.
I was able to secure meetings with a few congressional offices and staff, including House Majority Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. His staff and I spent nearly an hour going over healthcare issues. They listened, took notes, and promised to follow up in the coming weeks. They seemed truly interested and empathized with the plight of patients. I also met with staff from the office of Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and shared more of my concerns. Buchanan sits on the Ways and Means Committee and is influential in discussions concerning healthcare expenditures and the funding of healthcare programs.
Interestingly, both staffs seemed genuinely surprised about my report on the "real" state of healthcare, particularly when I discussed issues of billing, reimbursement for physicians, and the cost of drugs and medical devices. Many members of Congress are not adequately informed about healthcare-related issues because they do not have to deal with the system in the same way that doctors and the average patient have to on a daily basis.
Healthcare and Congress on life support
There is little hope for saving the healthcare system in the next four years. After more than seven years of criticizing the Affordable Care Act and campaigning on promises to repeal and replace, the Republicans have little to offer. One would think that during former President Barack Obama's two terms, Republicans would have been working on a viable replacement plan, but clearly, they have not.
In medicine, we are always taught to be prepared, to be flexible, and to be ready for unforeseen circumstances. We meticulously plan our treatment or surgical approach and the next steps. Republicans, after winning majorities in both houses and also taking the White House, have shown a lack of preparation to actually govern — particularly when it comes to healthcare.
The Democrats, always simply satisfied with the status quo, refuse to admit that Obamacare is not viable in the long term and have not put forward any plans to address its failings. Most of their energy has been put into thwarting any legislation put forward by the opposition. The Republicans, due to bitter infighting within the party, have crafted piecemeal replacement plans that are likely to show no real improvement. In short, these plans simply rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.
What must happen now?
In the hospital, when a Code Blue is called, all available staff rush to the bedside of a patient who is in distress. In most cases, this means CPR and any measures needed to save the patient's life. Any indecision or delay in treatment can result in death. However, if the team works together, with a single goal (of saving the patient's life), a positive outcome is far more likely.
It's time to call a Code Blue on healthcare reform in Congress. We must demand that both chambers of Congress focus on real, meaningful healthcare reform. Any delay, much like with a patient who is in distress, will lead to disaster and, ultimately, death. Not only for healthcare as we know it, but for doctors and patients as well.
Kevin Campbell (@DrKevinCampbell) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an internationally recognized cardiologist and medical, health, and wellness expert. He has authored two books and appears regularly on Fox News, Fox Business, CBS, and other media outlets. Dr. Campbell is the CEO of PaceMate, a healthcare data solutions company.
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