By Brenda Gazzar
Code Wack Podcast, December 28, 2020
Featuring Dr. Rob Davidson, practicing emergency room doctor and head of Committee to Protect Medicare. Why is it that an advanced nation like the U.S. has experienced over 2 million COVID-19 infections? How have factors like the lack of a coordinated federal response and an inadequate health insurance system contributed to our national health tragedy? Host Brenda Gazzar and Dr. Rob Davidson discuss how wearing masks and getting vaccinated would save countless American lives.
Welcome to Code WACK!, your podcast on America’s broken healthcare system and how Medicare for All could help. I’m your host, Brenda Gazzar.
What will it take to stop this unparalleled coronavirus surge in America in 2021? I recently spoke with Dr. Rob Davidson, an ER physician and head of the Committee to Protect Medicare, to get his take on the matter.
So, thank you Dr. Rob Davidson for joining us today on Code WACK! You volunteer as the executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare, and you also work as an emergency room doctor in rural West Michigan. What are you seeing and experiencing in the ER amid this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic?
Dr. Rob: Well, over the last six to eight weeks I would say, we’ve just seen – like a lot of places in this country – significant numbers of patients with symptoms of COVID-19, significant numbers of sick patients, particularly on their second or third visit after about a week or so, and particularly those people in high risk groups, older people, people with pre-existing conditions are getting hospitalized at unprecedented numbers. And we’re a small rural hospital, a critical access hospital, essentially a minimal number of inpatient beds, ICU beds, and we are frequently running close to capacity, you know, maybe for a day or two at a time here and there a couple times a month. This has just been six straight weeks of every single day of being either at capacity or sometimes beyond capacity — holding people in the ER for multiple hours on end waiting for beds.
And then also end up transferring people around west Michigan to other similar hospitals who might happen to have a bed or to larger tertiary care hospitals who are also experiencing these massive surges. Yeah, I mean it’s just been very sustained, unprecedented and at some point, the system might not make it. We need a break.
U.S. coronavirus cases and deaths per million people are among the highest in the world. Why do you think this is?
Dr. Rob: Well, I think it’s certainly multifactorial. I think a lack of a coordinated federal response and in fact, a sort of disinformation campaign from the federal government, particularly from the (U.S.) president has contributed greatly. I think, particularly in areas where I live. We’re in a very heavy, Republican Trump area. A lot of people still don’t wear masks. People try to tell me that masks cause harm. People have tried to tell me “this is just the flu, that this is no big deal.”
I had a patient who came in the other day who told me she believed that until a neighbor on either side of her at her senior apartment complex died of COVID-19, and she came in sort of as a convert, saying “ okay I get it. This thing is a lot bigger deal than we thought.”
I think that’s part of it. I certainly think that our system in this country of administering health care has contributed to it. I think the many tens of millions without insurance, the 100 million or so who are underinsured, who perhaps at early phases of illness could get treatment now that we have some treatments available, or even people who are getting extremely sick, but waiting it out at home because they don’t want to come in and incur a huge deductible. Or even people with quote-on-quote “good insurance” incur a copay of $250 or $500 just to come to the hospital, only to be told they’re okay, and there’s nothing we could do for them, except cautiously waiting.
I think that all together has contributed to the crazy numbers that we’re seeing here, and will continue to do so unfortunately, until we hopefully get some leadership that can steer us a little better and then hopefully this vaccine has a significant impact over the next six to eight months.
We’re in the midst of an explosive surge right now, as we know. More than 315,000 Americans have died after contracting the virus. What do you think will be essential in stopping its spread?
Dr. Rob: Listen, I think the basics are the most important thing still so if we can somehow convince that third to 40% of the population who doesn’t think masks are important that they are, I think that would be huge. I think if people would simply wear masks when they’re around people not in their direct household or when they’re anywhere indoors with anyone that isn’t in their immediate household, that can help. I think people limiting activity.
I think continuing, unfortunately in some places, in my state this is the case, to keep indoor dining closed but then provide support from the state and/or federal government so that these restaurants and the employees of these restaurants can remain whole, can do their part to help fight the pandemic. I think all of that will have a significant impact and then of course I think widespread delivery of the multiple, coronavirus vaccines that are now coming to market that are now being distributed and injected. I think that will, hopefully, in 6-8 months time get us to that point. Unfortunately we still have 6 to 8 months until most people in this country will have access to the vaccine. So, we still have a lot of the basic public health work to do.
Tell me briefly about the Committee to Protect (Medicare), which you lead. What is it about and what drew you to the organization?
Dr. Rob: So, we’re an organization of doctors across the country. I believe now in 42 states, we have people actively participating. Essentially, our overall goal is, as physicians, to elevate voices of other physicians, as advocates for our patients, for affordable health care. It’s as simple as that. Now, the name Committee to Protect Medicare — absolutely, we believe Medicare is essential, and certainly, there are forces out there that are trying to privatize Medicare through Medicare Advantage plans. But we really want to defend the health care people have currently and expand on that, and expand into more means of affordable health care, including our ultimate goal of a Medicare for All system.
Thank you, Dr. Rob.
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