Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Testimony to GOP Doctors Caucus

I am giving testimony on Health Care Reform to the GOP Doctors Caucus on Thursday morning, Jan. 21, 2010.

UPDATE: My notes on the back and forth are posted here.

I am representing myself for sure, and, if I do well, will claim to be representing Doctors for America, as well (just kidding).

Here is my opening statement:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.

A study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine[i] indicated that 78% of physicians “agreed that physicians have a professional obligation to address societal health policy issues. Majorities also agreed that every physician is professionally obligated to care for the uninsured or underinsured (73%), and most were willing to accept limits on reimbursement for expensive drugs and procedures for the sake of expanding access to basic health care (67%).”

I was greatly encouraged by this study. But also, sometimes being a glass-half-empty kind of guy, I also was disappointed that 22% of physicians do NOT think they have a duty beyond their individual practice or owe a duty only to the patients in patients in front of them.

In 2004, the American College of Physicians and the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation published the Charter on Medical Professionalism,[ii] which included language that very pointedly noted that physicians have a duty to social justice in health care:

Principle of social justice. The medical profession must promote justice in the health care system, including the fair distribution of health care resources. Physicians should work actively to eliminate discrimination in health care, whether based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, or any other social category.

It also states that we have a duty to improve access to care and to a just distribution of finite resources. The ACP reports that more than 50 professional organizations in America and around the world have signed on to this Charter.

I am pleased to say that the leadership of most of our medical professional organizations are now not only talking the talk, but walking the walk, and in an unprecedented manner, the 10 largest physician organizations are supporting health care reform that coincides with their stated goals of universal access to health care in America.

But it is not only organized medicine in favor or reform, as most physicians support reform as well. Another survey from the New England Journal showed overwhelming support (63%) for either reform with a public option or straight up single payer health care.[iii]

It is estimated that 45,000 people die in America every single year due to lack of access to health care.[iv] Whether this is twice as high or half as high as the “true” number is almost immaterial, as it is unacceptable in any case. My experiences, and the experiences of my colleagues, convince me that this number is true, and perhaps even a gross underestimate. Every physician I know has stories of patients who ignored some illness or deferred seeking treatment due to lack of health insurance. I had a patient who was literally coughing up blood for months and had a severe cough for many more months before that before he finally came into the hospital with respiratory failure and advanced cancer.

And, just as in war there are multiples of wounded for every casualty, so too, in our struggle with illness, we see much more suffering that does not get counted. The cab driver supporting a family of five who ignores his diabetes (he knows that is what it is), because he is trying to get health insurance and knows this diagnosis will doom his chances. So he ends up in my ICU with severe diabetic ketoacidosis. The construction worker with a seizure disorder who cannot see a neurologist to adjust his medications because of lack of money to pay for his last visit. He develops uncontrolled seizures for the second time in a few months and ends up in the ICU on life support.

Every physician you know can tell you stories like this. And there are more than 800,000 of us in the US, so the 45,000 number strikes me as not only low for preventable deaths, but only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the human cost in physical suffering and anguish. Remember, all these patients had families who loved them.

I know you hear from many disgruntled physicians who are concerned and even fearful of change. It is unfortunate that this fear prevents many from listening to the “better angels of our nature,” and, instead of striving to improve reform as proposed, simply attack and reject any and all proposals on the table.

It is also worth noting that the changes Congress makes now will certainly affect me and my peers with gray hair, but these bills are really about physicians just starting practice, still in medical school or still just thinking about medical school. And, if you have kids, you know this: they don’t think like us. In medicine, in particular, surveys have shown that they view medicine as a chance to help people and serve society, and don’t have that “calling” to medicine as older generations did. They don’t expect to make a small fortune, but they do expect fair compensation for all they have had to go through to get through medical school and residency, financially and in opportunity cost. So, remember when you hear grumbling about reform, consider the source, and, to channel Yogi Berra, remember the future.

In this final minute, I do want to run through some particulars of what we like in the current House and Senate Bills and would like to see in the final reform bill:

  1. Provide health insurance coverage for 96 percent of Americans while reducing the federal deficit by $30 billion.
  2. Provide substantial subsidies to help make coverage more affordable for our patients.
  3. Implement insurance market reforms to prevent individuals from being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and to limit premium differentials based on age, gender and other factors.
  4. Establish a public health insurance option to ensure there is adequate competition and affordable health insurance options in all areas of the country.
  5. Provide a 10% bonus payment for all primary care providers and a 10% bonus payment for general surgeons and PCPs practicing in underserved areas to ensure a strong physician workforce.
  6. Increase Medicaid payment for primary care services to at least Medicare payment rates and expand Medicaid.
  7. Expand the National Health Services Corp and Title VII health professions training programs.
  8. Expand the medical home pilots and other health care delivery improvement models in addition to creating the Innovation Center to focus on improving the health care delivery system
  9. Invest billions to strengthen our public health system and focus on prevention and wellness.
  10. Establish a new program to encourage states to implement alternatives to traditional medical malpractice litigation – the first step .
  11. Create the Innovation Center and expand the medical home pilots – the kinds of health care delivery models that will improve care coordination and efficiency.
  12. Create an Independent Medicare Advisory Board, isolated from the political process to ensure patients get the care they need, to make recommendations on cost containment and improvements.
  13. Focus on prevention and wellness including reimbursement for an annual Medicare wellness visits, advance care planning, and eliminating the cost burden on patients for preventive services

So, in conclusion, I would ask all of you to strive for health care reform where our bottom line is quality affordable health care for everyone. Because ultimately, our goal is to reduce the number of deaths and needless suffering due to lack of access to care as close to zero as possible, and to leave our children with a better system than we inherited.

Thank you.

Christopher M. Hughes, MD, FCCP, FACP, FCCM
State Director, Pennsylvania, Doctors for America
Board of Trustees, Pennsylvania Medical Society

[i] Antiel, Ryan M., Curlin, Farr A., James, Katherine M., Tilburt, Jon C.Physicians' Beliefs and U.S. Health Care Reform -- A National SurveyN Engl J Med 2009 361: e23

[ii] Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium: A Physician Charter
Project of the ABIM Foundation, ACP–ASIM Foundation, and European Federation of Internal Medicine Ann Intern Med February 5, 2002 136:243-246

[iii] Keyhani, Salomeh, Federman, AlexDoctors on Coverage -- Physicians' Views on a New Public Insurance Option and Medicare Expansion. N Engl J Med 2009 361: e24

[iv] Health Insurance and Mortality in US Adults.Wilper et al. Am J Public Health.2009; 99: 2289-2295

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Global Nomad said...

Chris! This is awesome and so well-spoken. Congratulations on making the most of this opportunity and "making your life your argument." (Albert Schweitzer) It inspires and encourages me to keep working for justice and change, and to continue having thoughtful, civil conversations like this with people who represent other viewpoints. Thanks!

Unknown said...

great job. it's not all lost. we have to keep going--find a way to reach the ultimate objectives you eloquently put in your testimony. thank you.

Christopher M. Hughes, MD said...

My daughter's post at the New America Foundation's Health Blog:


Christopher M. Hughes, MD said...

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Global Nomad said...

Your daughter covered all sides very well in her article! It was a great read and excellent journalism. I have used both your testimony and her well-researched information to debate this issue with my friends and family.

PS. I apologize for addressing you so informally. I thought you were another Chris Hughes, who is a former medical schoolmate and also an advocate for healthcare reform (but he does not have a daughter). :)