Commentary — April 2015
Tex Med. 2015;111(4):11-12.
By U.S. Rep. Michael C. Burgess, MD
Last December, Gallup released a poll that ranked the honesty and ethical perceptions of various professions. Topping the charts at 80-percent approval were nurses, followed shortly behind by doctors at 65 percent. As you scroll down to the bottom of the report, you’ll find members of Congress — hanging on by a thread at just 7 percent.
While I don’t propose to know how to fix the image problem of Congress, I believe Gallup’s poll validates the need for more health care professionals in the legislative process.
If you are a doctor or a nurse, I suspect you just glanced at your daily schedule and decided there would not be enough time to take on that burden. I know that reaction because it was the same one I had — up until 2001.
For any of us, there can be a lightbulb moment, a time when you ask yourself, “Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing?” For me, Sept. 11, 2001, was my lightbulb moment. But the process took a bit of an effort to get started.
For any candidate, the timeline can be different, but I decided to call a trusted friend who had been elected to office in Texas. I had an idea to run for the U.S. House, but I needed a knowledgeable sounding board because the very idea of me running for office seemed preposterous — so far was it outside my normal comfort zone. I expected her reaction to be different, but she told me that I would be a good candidate for the open seat in Texas’ 26th district.
My second call was to a consultant who reacted more as I had expected. He began to discourage me and even asked me if I was prepared not only to lose but to come in dead last. What a blow to the ego that meeting was, but it was a good one in retrospect. Any candidate for office, especially one coming from the health care profession, needs to prepare for the worst possible outcome. In a field where we always aim for the best possible outcome, that can be a big adjustment.
The other lesson I learned in those early days was just how valuable the trust I had built among my own practice and my network was to me. It was a careful balance to ask patients and colleagues for their vote without falling into a position where I felt like I was asking too much. The confidence that patients place in their physicians is extraordinary, and I wanted to assure them their confidence would remain a priority even after I took office. I was fortunate enough to have won that open seat in Texas and now have the opportunity to serve as a voice for health care in Congress.
Just a few years after I began, the health care debate heated up on Capitol Hill. A new president had moved into the White House and had decided to reform our industry. It was another lightbulb moment for the health care industry.
The Republican House conference had six doctors as members before the debate began; today, we have nearly 20. That’s a remarkable growth in just a short period of time, but still not quite enough to make a noticeable difference in the debate.
For that reason, I now lead an effort called the STAT Initiative. The effort is designed not only to encourage health care professionals to run for office, but more importantly, to empower the voice of America’s patients. Without a bullhorn to amplify the concerns of our members, the U.S. government will charge forward with policies that do not make good sense for those affected.
It would be unreasonable to consider that economic policies would be adjusted without the consultation of economists, but somehow the overhaul of health care policy was not enough to consult doctors, nurses, and the health care industry itself.
So we are left with a new law and regulations that are unfairly burdening the wallets of patients and the entire medical profession.
That the Affordable Care Act was misguided, if not an outright fraud, has been well documented. As a doctor in Congress, I would prefer to repeal the ACA. But even with a change in the political makeup of Congress, we know the administration will ultimately oppose a dramatic rewrite. In the remaining two years of this president’s term, I believe there are some adjustments that could be made that would immediately improve the situation for those most adversely affected by the law. People buying in the individual market have been hurt the worst by the ACA. These are the folks who have had affordable policies canceled and now face dramatic premium increases along with astonishingly high deductibles.
To provide even minimal relief, I believe that we need to make health savings accounts available for everyone, that we ought to make health insurance premiums tax deductible, and that we need to promote pricing competition through market reform and allow patients to shop for coverage across state lines.
I am fortunate enough to be joined by others in Congress who believe these to be reasonable adjustments to the law. Adjustments that will provide patients with health care costs that are reasonable and affordable. Adjustments that will allow physicians and providers to better serve their patients. And adjustments that make good and practical sense for the country.
It strikes me that those are the kinds of adjustments that patients and health care professionals would appreciate and the kind of strong leadership that might just return a better overall rating for Congress in the next Gallup poll. More importantly, what is at stake here is the protection of patients, which was the intended goal of the ACA from the start — sadly an unachievable goal with the law as it is currently written.
Michael C. Burgess, MD, Lewsiville, an obstetrician-gynecologist by training, represents Texas’ 26th district in the U.S. House of Representatives.