Kentuckians must advocate for their health care

Dr. Boyd R. Buser
Dr. Boyd R. Buser

Physicians, like our nation, have strong, diverse opinions about the Affordable Care Act and efforts underway to repeal it.

As a physician, dean and president of the American Osteopathic Association, which represents more than 129,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and medical students, my mandate is to support policies that will ensure patients are better off in the future than they are today.

Reducing access to coverage through the repeal of the Affordable Care Act won’t improve outcomes for patients in Kentucky and will likely do more harm than good for people now receiving care.

More than half a million children in our state depend on Medicaid, as do 56,300 seniors and 185,700 people with disabilities. Last year, between January and March alone, 443,300 more people enrolled in the program.

Deep cuts to Medicaid, lifetime caps on coverage and penalties for patients with pre-existing conditions are not the path forward. Consider the impact that will have on seniors and children, as well as patients with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Most of us can agree that the heaviest burden should not fall on the most vulnerable.

The way to address issues with the health care system is not by cutting access, it’s by tackling perpetually rising costs. No legislation introduced thus far addresses the root cause problem of spiraling costs, which will not be contained by cutting access to preventative care.

Preventing illness is far cheaper than treating it. For those who are ill, treatment is most effective and least expensive when it is delivered early.

Preventive care means ensuring access to health care for everyone — and not just in the emergency department. Preventive care requires that patients have a stable ongoing relationship with a primary care physician, which saves everyone money by managing illness before it becomes life-threatening and financially ruinous.

That level of care requires affordable access. Whether through a private or public payer, all patients should have a core set of essential benefits for medical and mental health, along with a network of primary and specialty physicians from which to choose.

Patients should not be charged higher premiums nor denied coverage based upon their pre-existing health care conditions or past medical history, sex, disability, race or ethnicity, family history, or gender. Finally, there should be a safety net of care that is accessible to the most vulnerable, from infants to seniors.

The AOA has been vocal on this issue, communicating to the nation’s 129,000 osteopathic physicians and osteopathic medical students to emphasize our priorities for health care reform.

We have been fortunate to have allies in this effort: the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association have all mobilized to advocate for our patients.

As a coalition, we have repeatedly opposed bills that fall short of our priorities and have outlined shared reforms that we hope lawmakers will address. Our leaders have met with members and staffers from both chambers of Congress to share our concerns.

As a fellow Kentuckian and concerned physician, I’m asking you to join us. Call Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and tell them that simply repealing the Affordable Care Act is no solution for what ails Kentucky.

Boyd R. Buser, DO, is president of the American Osteopathic Association, vice president for health affairs and dean of the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine.