By Peter Mahr, M.D.
The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.), September 27, 2017
As a family physician, I was trained to guide patients through difficult times with clinical expertise and emotional support. But I am finding it increasingly difficult to provide this care.
One of my patients without insurance received a $100,000 hospital bill after a heart attack and newly diagnosed congestive heart failure. She has declined all recommended follow up tests, specialist care and cardiac rehabilitation due to the cost. I had a young patient in his 20s who developed worrisome neurological symptoms that warranted tests to rule out a stroke. But he declined hospital admission as his insurance required a $3,000 copay. A father had a bicycle accident requiring life-saving emergency care for a broken pelvis and fractured arm. The emotional toll from his accident was compounded by the shock of a $5,000 deductible bill, and the stress of the resulting collections agency calls and threat of home foreclosure.
Patients’ financial stress has become a routine part of our medical practices. Although we stand by our patients during daunting medical challenges, we were never taught to protect them from bankruptcy when they seek the care they need. These are stories of a broken health care system. They reveal a dark side of medicine we were not trained for and did not choose to participate in.
The United States’ healthcare system is the most expensive in the world, yet 60 million of us remain uninsured or underinsured. Our administrative and drug costs dwarf other nations. Gallup reports that one-third of Americans delay or forgo care due to cost. Despite spending twice as much per capita on healthcare, the US ranks 81st among 195 nations on mortality prevented by medical care – we’re tied with Estonia and one place above Lebanon.
Fortunately, there is light emerging from darkness. Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation that would enact a Medicare For All or “single payer” system in the U.S. All current health care financing — taxes, premiums, copayments and deductibles — would be placed into a single fund and pay for all medically necessary services. The vast majority of Americans would receive comprehensive medical coverage and pay less than they currently do. Each patient would have the freedom to go to any doctor or hospital. The dramatic reduction in administrative costs and the ability to negotiate drug prices will allow us to cover everyone and stabilize health care costs.
Single payer health insurance is what our family, friends, neighbors and communities deserve. We deserve continuous, affordable health insurance regardless of income, marital status, age or employment. We deserve to seek medical care when we are sick without fear of financial catastrophe. We deserve to choose our doctors or hospitals based on preference not on insurance networks. And we deserve the peace of mind that we will have access to health care when we need it.
I urge you to support Sen. Sanders’ Medicare For All Act of 2017. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkely is a co-sponsor. Call Sen. Ron Wyden today and ask him to sign on as well.
Dr. Peter Mahr has practiced as a family physician in the metro area for 16 years and is president of the Portland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program. He lives in Southeast Portland.