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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Doctors for America

Bob Meissner

Deputy Director of Communications

We all need a good wake up and shake up once in a while, maybe often—both personally and professionally.

We need something to come along and give our smug complacency a good rattle. Recently, I got just that.

I’ve been with Families USA since mid-2006. I have had one of the best seats in the house to watch real health reform evolve. Early in my tenure here I heard then-Senator Obama on the eve of his presidential campaign speak about health reform at our conference in January 2007, and I watched the Affordable Care Act take shape through 2009. As part of my job I have written hundreds of thousands of words to help explain the law and point out its benefits.

So that makes me an expert, right? Nope. Not even close.

I now know this, because I had an opportunity in the past couple of weeks to meet the real experts on this issue—the doctors who deal directly with patients and whose first-hand, real-world experience reveals the progress we have made in delivering health care.

Families USA offered Doctors for America my services as an on-board press contact for the group’s “Patients over Politics” tour, which ran from the Republican convention in Tampa to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, with stops along the way. (The 31-foot logo-wrapped RV that was a centerpiece of the tour can be seen at http://www.drsforamerica.org)

Their mission was a simple one. Hit the road, hold scheduled and impromptu events, and tell the world about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Put on your scrubs and your white smock (not me!) with a stethoscope around your neck, and approach the public as a doctor talking about improvements in health care delivery, not as a politician touting the benefits or decrying the liabilities of an act of Congress.

There’s a world of difference between the two, and, as I discovered, there’s just as big a difference between writing and answering questions about reform and dealing directly with its implementation and its benefits.

These doctors have been dealing on a personal, one-to-one basis with families who have been left behind by an increasingly complex and expensive system. These were doctors who saw patients stretch their meds, cutting dosage from twice a day to daily and then every other day, because they couldn’t afford the prescriptions.

Yes, of course, these patients were back in a month or two with the same issues—congestive heart failure, blood pressure out of control, other potentially fatal conditions. Yes, these patients were going to the emergency room, being stabilized and released, without any long-term treatment schedule.

These doctors told stories of tragedy, but they also told stories of hope. Now they will begin to see patients for annual services made available under the Affordable Care Act—mammograms, colonoscopies, other procedures that will allow doctors to detect and treat health problems early in their course.

Now they will begin to see families who are newly covered under Medicaid or young people with sports injuries or sudden illnesses who are now covered under their parents’ policies.

For doctors, it’s like having a giant barrier removed and suddenly being able to reach out and lay healing hands on their patients. The fruit of the law is access, and the Affordable Care Act has made access possible.

All this, I learned.

I’m back at my desk, off the road, but the lessons learned there will stay with me. I was given a peek through a window on a profession that is being profoundly altered in a positive way by health reform. The doctors benefit, their patients benefit, and we as a nation will all benefit.

It was just the shake up I needed.