by Max Marbut
Dr. William Plested III, president of the American Medical Association, addressed the Rotary Club’s meeting Monday and told those gathered what he thinks is wrong with America’s current health care system.
Is it obesity? Is it smoking? Is it sedentary lifestyles?
While all those certainly contribute to poor health and the high cost of care, Plested said there is a bigger factor involved.
“One of the biggest travesties in this country is malpractice liability. It drives people out of practice. It’s why communities across the nation don’t have neurosurgeons, don’t have obstetricians and don’t have trauma centers.”
Plested was just as clear about what he thinks needs to be done and what it will take to accomplish the change.
Plested has been a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon in private practice in California since 1970. He said his involvement in organized medicine began when doctors in that state experienced a medical liability crisis in the early ‘70s. He believes the regulations California put in place 30 years ago should be adopted nationwide, including a $250,000 cap on awards for pain and suffering and for attorney’s fees.
“The solution is to get rid of the tort system. It has the potential to destroy this country.”
Plested also said that in California, school children don’t go outside for recess and are instead told to bring video games to school so they can play at their desks, “Because no one will accept the liability for accidents that might happen on the playground.
“We’re going to pay for this with a generation of ‘fatsos’ with every disease you can imagine.”
Plested is profoundly passionate about his opinions, at one point quipping to the audience he was “having chest pains” just talking about the subject of health care reform.
The future of American health care is a combination of private providers and government services, said Plested, who also opined that insurance should be owned by the insured, not by the insured’s employer.
“Does your employer understand or even care about yours and your families health care needs?” he asked.
“And we now have a very mobile population. When you leave your job, you lose your health insurance. Who came up with that plan?”
Plested also said he supports legislation to provide tax credits for people who choose to buy their own health insurance instead of enrolling in their employer’s plan.
“They should not be punished by the tax system.”
He also had a few things to say about the need for reform in the health insurance industry, particularly in terms of profit motives and executive compensation.
“Health care insurers have provided some of Wall Street’s highest returns and profits for investors for the past several years. One health insurance CEO’s bonus was more than $1.6 billion. Maybe we ought to have a little adult supervision of this industry,” commented Plested.
If there is a crisis in health care today, said Plested, it’s a crisis of success. He believes two things – technology and demography – are what he called “two great tsunamis.”
“Today, we are able to do things that were science fiction when I trained as a doctor. We had no MRI, no CT scan, no pacemakers, no fiber optics. Now we are able to keep people healthy and alive longer and the Baby Boomers are retiring long before they pass productive working age.”
Plested said that group is vastly different from their parents when it comes to leaving the workforce.
“They’re not going to retire at 65 and sit in a rocking chair on the porch. They’re going to ski and skydive with their artificial hips and knees.”
The AMA will not endorse a candidate for president in 2008, Plested said, because the organization feels that while health care reform will be an important issue in the election, it’s a non-partisan issue.
“We have to convince those on both sides of the aisle that health care is important regardless of politics. What’s most important is health care for their constituents,” said Plested.
He concluded his remarks by saying if he had one message it would be to encourage everyone “to be a part of health care reform. Don’t leave the decision up to young social planners who don’t know or appreciate history.
“Talk to everyone you know and make sure your legislators know we need to reform the health care system.”