True reform remains elusive

By Arthur J. Sutherland III, M.D.
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.), Letters, Dec. 17, 2012

Dr. Scott Morris' Dec. 13 Viewpoint guest column "Jesus, prophets couldn't get health care" was quite clever, but we need to look "upstream" at the roots of our problems to figure out why Jesus couldn't get care in our current health care "system." The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 was just another symptom of the chaotic, costly and dysfunctional delivery system that we have lived with since World War II. We are an outlier among developed nations who all have more efficient and less costly national health programs that do a better job of delivering quality health care to all their populations.

Attempts to block implementation of the PPACA or opt out of parts of it just reflect the myopic vision our nation has in dealing with the cost and access issues in health care. The political rhetoric is one of fear and talk about the scarcity of wealth and other resources needed to transform our nation's health care into one of the world's best systems. That type of talk is just not true. We have an abundance of wealth, talent and medical resources, plus we already spend more than twice as much per capita as any other developed country. But we have the wrong system in place to get the job done.

Our current supply-driven health care market has no brakes on it. All the stakeholders have no incentives to control costs and improve quality. What we need is a well-thought-out and debated national health program with true national goals based on "best evidence" preventive and medical treatment standards, regional planning, and local implementation. We can best achieve these goals by improving and expanding Medicare for everyone in our country.

In a just society even those made poor have a right to health care. The PPACA will not cover everyone in America or make health care more affordable. The law just makes health insurance more affordable through a voucher system and supplements, but health insurance is not health care.

Even though the Church Health Center has done an outstanding job treating the working poor, we have a bigger problem than all the charity care in communities across the nation could possibly fix. It will require a national will to find the solution. Please look up H.R. 676, the Improved and Expanded Medicare for All Act.

Dr. Arthur J. Sutherland III resides in Memphis.