Reform stops short of what we need

Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 13, 2011

As always, I enjoy reading Dr. Manoj Jain's health care posts in The CA. His March 6 Viewpoint article correctly stated some of the points in the University of Memphis' study "The Impacts of Health Reform in Shelby County Tennessee."

Yes, we will be able to expand health insurance coverage to 74,234 non-elderly residents of Shelby County, but 71,200 will be left uninsured. Across Tennessee, 600,000 people will gain access to either private insurance or TennCare when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. These will be modest successes, but should be defended as the best we could get at this time.

As the U of M study notes, however, significant challenges will remain: the inadequate professional work force (doctors and nurses in primary care), the need for continued funding for substantial uncompensated care, the projection of ever-rising health care and insurance costs, reduced private and public payment rates for both health care providers and hospitals, and the strain on state funding for TennCare as more people enter the system. All of these challenges will make our health care market even more complex and dysfunctional.

The U of M study states that PPACA was "health" care reform. It was not. The PPACA law is health "insurance" reform, not meaningful and moral health care reform.

Our health system is really a health care market that is not "free" and has many distortions. PPACA is flawed because it continues our nation's reliance on an inefficient, wasteful and costly private insurance model of financing health care. Nationally we deny health care access to millions, bankrupt patients and families, ratchet up costs and frustrate efforts to improve quality.

We need a national health program with uniform standards based on medical evidence of best care, plus effective regional planning and implementation so the "challenges" outlined in the U of M study can be overcome.

Physicians for a National Health Program calls for real and sustainable solutions to our health care woes as we work through the political process. PPACA is the law of the land and should not be repealed without anything better to take its place, but it should be superseded in time by quality, affordable care to everyone in our country -- single-payer national health insurance, an improved "Medicare for All."

Dr. Arthur J. Sutherland III
Tennessee coordinator and national board member Physicians for a National Health Program