We were honored this last week to travel to our nation's capital as part of a Utah delegation for the Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights, joining doctors and health-care professionals from around the country to express our concern over health-care reform being discussed in Congress.
Doctors from several states gathered to express alarm over the shortcomings of current proposals. We were from different states and disciplines but were united in opposing government-run, single-payer health care and in believing that the proposed "public option" is a direct path to that outcome.
That is not to say we want to see things remain as they are. All of us recognized the need to assist our fellow citizens who are uninsured. We agreed that pre-existing conditions must no longer mean exclusion from coverage. We are on the front lines dealing with accelerating treatment costs. In short, there was no doubt among us that our nation needs a deliberate, thoughtful, rational, nonpartisan process to largely revamp our health-care system.
But lost in much of the rhetoric is the fact that our current system does a great deal right. Dr. Donald Palmisano, spokesman of CPPR and former American Medical Association president, wrote last week that America's health care is still the best in the world, citing examples such as Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Edward Kennedy as to the good our medical system can do. He is right. There is much good about American medicine, even while reform is needed.
Imagine a patient coming to an emergency room with a badly sprained ankle — painful, bruised and swollen but otherwise intact. After a cursory examination, the attending doctor says, "We'll just amputate and install a prosthetic leg."
In no way do we mean to make light of those who suffer serious injuries requiring amputation. But we doubt these patients would willingly choose a prosthetic over a natural limb that could be healed.
As good as artificial limbs have become, they cannot fully replace the original.
That is how our group of doctors who visited Congress saw our health-care system. We were not there to cement the status quo.
Right now there are elements that need intensive treatment, up to and including "surgery." It may take a while for healing, and even longer for full rehabilitation. But American health care is still the world's standard. To simply replace it with something artificial that will end up costing far more is folly.
As physicians, we have been taught, "First, do no harm." That seems like a good standard for reforming health care as well. We need to take what is right with our system and build on it. We need to treat the parts that are broken without harming the rest. But it's more important to do it right than to do it right this minute.
We are not trying to be politicians or policymakers. We will leave the specific policy prescriptions to others. There are many good, reasonable options that are going unheard over the clamor and din of "Obama Care." Our own Sen. Bob Bennett — with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon — has put forward what many thoughtful experts think is one of the most sensible proposals around. Yet his and other good solutions are ignored in favor of long-nurtured partisan agendas verging on vendettas.
In some quarters it seems more than a political debate. It is a political duel.
This one-sided partisan approach is not productive and will not yield a healthy outcome in the future. We took time as medical professionals this week to travel to Capitol Hill, look our elected representatives in the eye and say, "First, do no harm."
We can only hope they listen.
Drs. Stewart and Sellers practice medicine in Utah County and represent the Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights. Stewart is a former state senator and served on former Gov. Mike Leavitt's Health Care Commission.
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