April 18, 1775 was a fateful date in American history. That night, Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith, rode his horse through the countryside and called his fellow colonists “To Arms!” British troops were arriving by sea to suppress any effort by the colonists to gain their freedom from the tyranny of the crown. Once alerted, the Minutemen responded at Lexington and Concord, and the rest is, as they say, history. The event was immortalized by Longfellow nearly a century later. But to be sure, not everyone in the colonies was in favor of revolution. There were those who were loyal to the crown called Tories or Loyalists, and those who vigorously opposed the repression of King George, commonly referred to as Whigs or Patriots. Thank God the Patriots’ efforts didn’t stop with the first “Tea Party.”
Today, we face another British invasion of sorts, and once again we must be called “To Arms!” This time the threat is to our personal healthcare freedoms, and is being imposed by our own government as it now has the power to regulate patients’ rights to choose what is best for them, as well as physicians’ rights to practice as independent advocates for our patients. Make no mistake, Obamacare has a distinctly British look and feel to it. In Great Britain everyone has access to “free” care through the National Health Service. While this sounds good, in reality diagnostic tests and treatments are frequently delayed for months or even years, and some treatments are denied as not cost effective.
Our Congress and the President have effectively seized the practice of medicine by controlling both reimbursement and access under the direction of a Healthcare Czar, otherwise known as Secretary of Health and Human Services, formerly Kathleen Sebelius and now Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Although government take-over of medicine has been occurring incrementally for decades, this current effort was designed to absorb the final segment, known as private practice.
Perhaps of even greater concern to all Americans is the precedent that has been set. This law was rammed through Congress based on the claim of an “economic crisis” requiring “emergency surgery.” This approach is now the model for achieving any additional “reforms” supposedly designed to “help us.” Thomas Jefferson once said “Be most on guard for your personal freedom when the government’s purposes are beneficent.” Interestingly, the members of Congress who proposed this new and improved healthcare plan voted down an amendment that would have forced them, their families and all government employees to participate in it.
Every American deserves a healthcare system that maintains our fundamental freedoms, including the right to choose and maintain their own physician. Obamacare severely curtails or eliminates these freedoms. Furthermore, it does nothing to improve the insolvent Medicare system. It actually makes it worse by cutting $500 Billion from the Medicare budget over the next ten years. It also failed to address the medical liability crisis that exists in most parts of this country, and does nothing to address the fatally flawed physician payment formula. The net effect of Obamacare promises to exacerbate the growing shortage of physicians in critically important specialties like General Surgery. New physicians won’t choose this or other equally demanding fields of medicine, and those who are in practice won’t remain because it simply isn’t worth it.
Many patients have asked, “Why don’t you doctors do something?” Well, many of us are trying but our influence is limited, partly because physicians are not well organized. On the issue of healthcare reform there are basically two camps, much like the colonist who were either Loyalists or Patriots. The AMA is often described as the voice of doctors, but it has fewer than 17 percent of America’s physicians as members. This is in no small part due to the fact the AMA leadership chose a “Loyalist” approach to government reforms, while the overwhelming majority of practicing physicians favor a “Patriot” strategy of active resistance. Organizations like the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and Docs4PatientCare are among those attempting to carry this banner and are thus deserving of our support.
President Obama warned that writings such as this are the scare tactics of those who want to preserve the status quo. With all due respect, America’s physicians don’t need scare tactics. The public is already frightened and so are their doctors. A government take-over of our profession has everyone worried, as it should. Personally, as a physician who has been in practice for more than thirty years, I see this simply as an unacceptable intrusion by the federal government. However, it appears the only thing that can save American medicine is a general outcry from the public militia, our patients; thus the reason for this “Call to Arms.” All freedom loving Americans must make their voices heard at the polls in November.
Although this is a political process, it is actually very similar to the treatment of a patient with a life-threatening illness or injury. DIAGNOSIS: Obamacare threatens the very existence of what has been the best healthcare in the world. TREATMENT: Vote for candidates who will repeal this law. FOLLOW-UP: Watch closely what happens and call or write your representatives to ensure they don’t forget what you’ve sent them to Washington to do.
Liberty, like life, is a precious commodity and once lost cannot be replaced. We simply cannot give up the fight to retain the freedoms others have fought and died to secure. So, before you say “my voice and my vote don’t really matter,” consider what would have happened had the Minutemen remained safely in their beds, allowing the Red Coats to cross Concord Bridge unopposed.