Tucker Calrson: The Face of
Author: Samuel Metz
When the American Society of
Anesthesiologists invited Tucker Carlson to address its
2009 annual meeting, we elevated politics over substance.
As Mr. Carlson, a flamboyant conservative commentator,
took the dais, we linked our own dismay regarding the
financial implications of health care legislation with
widespread aversion to reform generally.
That connection is bad for
business. Especially our business. Here's why.
Unlike members of the ASA,
most Americans are neither anesthesiologists nor
physicians. And many are fighting desperately to protect
themselves and their families from financial catastrophe.
When we embrace (as conservative commentators like Mr.
Carlson appear to do) the private insurance industry as
our closest ally, the very industry responsible for our
health care crisis, we alienate too many of our citizens,
including many of our patients.
Make no mistake about it.
Health care legislation enshrining Medicare reimbursement
rates as a national standard will devastate our
profession. Yet we must appreciate the huge gulf between
rejecting Medicare reimbursement rates specifically and
rejecting all change entirely.
And change is coming. The
juggernaut of reform rolls onward. Perhaps
anesthesiologists won a victory in defeating expansion of
Medicare reimbursement rates. But how long until the next
Congress attempts expansion? And the Congress after that?
The ASA unites us as
anesthesiologists with a professional stake in health care
reform. We are more than anesthesiologists, however. We
are heads of family, taxpayers, patients ourselves on
occasion, and socially responsible members of society. All
these roles place demands upon us just as they do on our
patients, and every citizen.
Mad As Hell Doctors, of which
I am a founding member, merges our goals as physicians
with those of other citizens who are not physicians, or
anesthesiologists, or even employed. Despite the
attention-getting title, we are not the lunatic fringe.
Physicians for a National Health Program (16,000 members)
and the National Physicians Alliance (20,000 members -
with an anesthesiologist as President-elect no less), all
forcefully advocate universal cost-effective health care
to benefit both physicians and patients.
No country in recorded
history has ever provided universal cost-effective health
care with the system we have in the United States - that
is, with an unregulated, free-market, private insurance
industry. And after 60 years of failure, the United States
remains the only nation still trying. It is no surprise we
pay twice as much for health care as the average
industrialized nation, enjoy worse care by almost every
measure of public health, and are the laughing stock of
the civilized world. After all, where else do citizens go
bankrupt and lose their homes if they acquire the wrong
disease, or the less affluent die of preventable
complications if they must buy food instead of health
This is the country in which
we live. Health care reform, sooner or later, will discard
private insurance as the mainstay of our income. If we
persist in protecting the very system that leaves our
families and government bereft of money and medical care,
we become featured headliners on the short list of every
Congressional committee looking for villains to pillory
when reform finally emerges.
Tucker Carlson may be a great
speaker and delightful person - perhaps the ideal
selection to kick-start an educationally intense meeting.
But we serve our professional interests better by avoiding
colorful commentators who direct us into a losing battle
against the inevitable. Instead, we should lead health
care reform toward a system that benefits all citizens and
not just colorful commentators.
Protecting our profession
requires putting ourselves ahead of the reform movement,
not sweeping up afterwards. Anesthesiologists risk
alienating patients, elected officials, and even many of
our colleagues when our public stand on health care
legislation is a general indictment of all reform. Our
interests as anesthesiologists are entirely consistent
with our interests as heads of family, as taxpayers, and
as responsible members of society. In fact, our interests
as anesthesiologists are the same as our patients - we
want universal cost-effective health care.
That goal is good for
business. Especially ours.