If you’re like me, you’re getting a bit restless hearing about what may or may not happen to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
As doctors, we are trained to act. While administrators plan new quality improvement programs, we take each day as an opportunity to improve our practice and work more closely with our teams. While our clinics and hospitals try to figure out how to streamline workflows in our EHRs, we diligently maintain medical records for our patients (in spite of our EHRs!) and work late, so our patients receive the best care possible. While payers debate new ways to compensate us for coordinating care, we go out of our way to call, page, and text our colleagues, so nothing slips through the cracks.
So, for us, this moment should be no different.
Throughout medical school and residency I took care of uninsured and underinsured individuals. They were often my best teachers, gracious about the limitations of my stage of training and grateful for whatever help I could provide. Years later I still care for uninsured and underinsured patients. So why should tomorrow be any different?
In the news, and now on our social media, we keep hearing about different forms of activism: petition your medical societies and governing bodies, call your state and national representatives, march on Washington. But, as doctors, we have always participated in our own quiet form of activism: one patient at a time, we keep doing whatever it takes to keep the system going.
And if you’re like me, it doesn’t matter to you if a patient is uninsured or insured. You are trained to help and if you know how, you will.
The fact is that today 22 million people receive health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. That means 1 in 15 Americans, 1 in 15 of our neighbors, and 1 in 15 of our patients receive health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. And, at this point in time, no one knows what’s going to happen to them.
Regardless of your politics, their health matters. Their lives matter. So let’s continue to do what we’ve always done.
Here are 8 ways we as doctors and health care professionals can uniquely help anyone affected by the impending repeal of Obamacare:
1. Tell our patients’ stories. Hearing about the uninsured and underinsured brings a human face to the challenge. Help those around us understand that these are our neighbors and friends, and that without insurance they get left behind.
2. Talk to our patients who are insured through the Affordable Care Act about their concerns and fears. As doctors, it is our responsibility to treat the whole person, and right now many of these individuals are under significant stress.
3. Volunteer to see patients — even just a few hours a week — at a public hospital or safety net clinic. The safety net is a national network of public hospitals, community health centers, and free clinics that provide affordable primary care for our nation’s underserved. These centers face a shortage of primary care physicians as well as specialists.
4. Volunteer to provide medical education to safety net providers to increase their capacity to manage complex patients.
5. Volunteer to provide free electronic curbside consults to primary care physicians caring for individuals in the safety net system, such as by collaborating on cases through free services like the Human Diagnosis Project.
6. Share your expertise in online physician Q&A forums so that those without coverage have access to accurate and free online resources.
7. Take the national doctors’ pledge at www.22MillionLives.org (#22MillionLives) to care for any American who loses health coverage.
8. Share this post and #22MillionLives with your friends so that they can help too.
This isn’t political. This is simply our calling.
Sandeep Palakodeti is a hospitalist.
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