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Health care reform necessary for patient-doctor relationships say 89 Emory med students

Throughout the country, the debate on health care reform has taken on a carnival-like atmosphere. Protesters compete to see who can shout the loudest and unfounded rumors trample the facts. That’s a problem.

As medical students, we see every day how our health care system is failing countless Americans. The cost of care is rising at an unsustainable rate, too many people are unable to get the care they need, and the patient-doctor relationship is threatened. We can, and we must, do better.

We need health care reform because we literally can’t afford health care without it. Nearly half of this nation’s health care spending comes from the government, so rising health care costs directly contribute to the national debt. On the individual level, rising costs are evident in the steadily growing cost of health insurance.

This year, Emory’s student health insurance plan costs 8 percent more than it did last year, more than twice the rate at which medical school tuition increased. The rapid rise in health care costs has been driven by a dysfunctional insurance market in which single companies often come to dominate a region, stifling competition, and by the reluctance of many insurers to adequately cover primary and preventative care – even though we know that in places where primary care is strong, people are healthier and health care costs are far lower. Health care reform can fix this by preventing companies from developing regional monopolies, guaranteeing that everyone has a choice of health insurance options, and by ensuring that primary care is always covered.

We need health care reform because we can’t afford the social costs of the current system. Too many people don’t have access to the health care they need. Forty-five million Americans lack health insurance, and many more have insurance that will not cover the cost of their care if they get sick. Many of these people could afford insurance if they were not excluded by egregious insurance industry practices like refusing to cover people who have had any past medical problems and dropping customers who get sick.

Having too many people without insurance also hurts those who are insured. Emergency rooms are overwhelmed by those who can’t afford care anywhere else; many have had to close. That means longer wait times: a matter of life and death for those who are critically ill. Health care reform can prohibit these underhanded tactics and ensure that no one is prevented from purchasing health insurance.

We need health care reform because the patient-doctor relationship is threatened by insurance companies focused not on patient health, but on their own bottom line. None of us entered medical school to spend our time negotiating with insurance companies instead of helping our patients, but that is what the current system increasingly demands.

As much as 30 percent of medical expenses are related to administrative costs. Health care reform can fix this by simplifying how insurance companies are billed and how physicians are reimbursed, by requiring that insurers have clear and transparent standards for what they do and do not cover, and by facilitating information-sharing between physicians and insurers. That’s not putting government between patients and physicians; that’s getting the insurance bureaucrats out of the way so physicians can focus on their patients’ health, not the insurers’ finances.

That’s why we need health care reform. This isn’t about Democrats, or Republicans, or political ideology. It’s about figuring out how all Americans can have access to health care when they need it. The status quo simply does not work. So let’s shift the debate away from inflammatory political attacks that have no basis in reality to an honest discussion of how to improve our health care system.

As future physicians, our ability to help our patients will depend not only on our knowledge and skills, but on the policy choices this country makes. That’s why nothing we learn in medical school will be as important to our patients as health care reform.

Nanes is a second-year medical student who earned his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis. This article included the names of 89 other Emory medical students who supported Nanes.

Respond to Nanes by commenting below or email him at [email protected].

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