During the election season, the biggest loser appears to be civility. Anger, attack ads and name calling ruled the day. We are faced with enormous and complex challenges, issues not easily addressed in sound bites. Yet that is what we usually get from our representatives. I find myself asking are we not willing or able to do the hard work of examining the issues before us?
During the ongoing discussions over health reform, the tone degenerated into accusations of Nazism and the suggestion of death panels. Unfortunately what was lost in the discussion was recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrating terminally ill patients who received palliative care, including discussions around end of life planning, lived longer. Not only are there no death panels but the kind of care that was proposed can actually prolong life.
Since my foray into the arena of medical writing, I have become keenly aware of the degree of anger and fear that people feel over our health care situation. When I merely reported on the trend of physicians leaving the Medicare program, although I have not done so myself, I received vicious verbal attacks and ongoing harassment. I understand the anger but I wonder if it might be misdirected. It is easy to point fingers, use character attacks and name calling based on rumor and gossip but much harder to dig deep and find the truth behind a story. But don’t we owe it to ourselves to examine the whole story? Unfortunately in an era of sound bites, thirty second ads and tweeting, we seem to have lost the ability to listen carefully and weigh all the information.
The discussion has now turned to repealing the health reform plan before it has been fully implemented. Do we want to continue the status quo? In my experience as a primary care physician, I had patients denied coverage for incidental findings such as hemorrhoids, cataracts and mild arthritis. Other patients declined to provide a medical history, fearing they would be denied insurance coverage. Doctors cannot be expected to do their jobs if patients are afraid to share their medical history.
While the number of uninsured continues to climb and an estimated forty five thousand people die yearly due to lack of access, will we wait a few more decades to take on the issue of health care again? Many pundits are now debating whether the administration was misdirected in forging ahead with the health care issue. Perhaps it was not the politically smart move, but maybe it was our moral imperative.
The campaign season has ended, now the hard work must begin. In a nation as diverse as ours, it would be naïve to expect complete agreement, but is it possible to disagree but remain civil? Instead of attacking those who share another opinion, can we work together to find common ground?
Aldebra Schroll is a family physician who blogs An Apple a Day.
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