By Ivey L. Dennard
On Thursday, April 23, the Medical Association of Atlanta held its 2009 spring meeting in the form of a spirited debate. The group gathered at Anthony’s restaurant over fried green tomatoes, surf n’ turf and pecan pie to address a concern that is at the forefront of both medical and public interests alike: Is universal health coverage the federal government’s responsibility?
Dr. Arthur Kellermann, professor of medicine and Associate Dean for Health Policy at Emory Medical University, began the pro-opening statement by relating his clinical experience in trauma to the life threat of U.S. health care on our suffering economy. “Critics of President Obama don’t understand why he is so focused on health care in the middle of the greatest economic crisis since the great depression. The answer is simple: to stop the bleeding.”
Dr. Kellermann cited statistics that demonstrated the critically high cost of health care in the U.S., adding, “The Congressional Budget Office considers health care costs the greatest fiscal threat to our country.” At $2.2 trillion a year, America spends twice as much as its competitors. He also indicated that despite these high costs, the U.S. falls far behind its competitors in the quality of health care provided.
Dr. Kellermann recognized that the average American does not trust government involvement, but maintained that they do not trust big business either and are reliant on a residual trust in doctors themselves. He emphasized fair rules, a public health insurance option for those that could not otherwise afford one and finally “up-to-date information” for doctors. He concluded, “We can do better; we must do better, by combining private sector ingenuity with public sector fairness.”
Wayne Oliver, Project Director at the Center for Health Transformation (founded by Newt Gingrich), opened his case in opposition to the motion by jovially introducing himself as “a recovering lobbyist” and marking his territory, “I am seated to your right for a number of reasons …”
While Oliver agreed that everyone should have access to affordable health care, he disputed that health care be controlled by the government rather than the private sector. He argued that government involvement has a torpedo effect on competition, private sector ingenuity and scientific discovery, saying, “Big government does not need to stick its nose into private markets, much less compete in them.” And in the end, the public option would be the only option.
Oliver went on to stress that a lack of competition leads to higher cost, then fewer choices and ultimately, lower quality. He maintained that President Obama’s “so-called public health care plan” will not only create a government bureaucracy, but will also threaten the security and coverage of the 130 million currently insured Americans.
The audience was not without contribution as they approached the mic with a range of opinions and questions. However, poll results showed a fairly even-handed room went unwavering, with 45% in support and 55% in opposition at both the start and end of the evening.
The give-and-take forum was well received by Medical Association of Atlanta. Compelling discussions spoke to the heart of one of the most significant social policy questions facing our current administration. In the end, whether in support or in opposition, between speakers and audience alike, there was one common sentiment: The current system is broken, the problem is critical and what are we going to do now?