Dr Oz: “Politicians dither and people die.”

After volunteering at the huge CareNow “free clinic” held at the Los Angeles Coliseum a few weeks ago, TV’s Dr. Oz has a powerful new editorial out in Time Magazine. He recounts the stories of some of the patients he saw, and the problems they dealt with becasue they lacked coverage and care.

At what point, I wondered that day and still wonder now, will we finally say enough? The medically underserved are, most commonly, the medically uninsured, and they number in the tens of millions. Many don’t have jobs, but just as many do. Their companies may not offer health insurance, or they simply may not be able to afford the monthly payroll deductions that would be required to enroll. Since we held our first clinic in October 2009, federal health care reform was enacted to address this. The law is challenged in many states and ultimately will be decided by the Supreme Court within the next year. I don’t underestimate the complexities of implementing a health care reform law that we can all live with. As with most entitlement programs since the Great Depression, we will have to perfect health care reform over time, just as Social Security, Medicare, veterans’ benefits and others were.

But we’re not perfecting the law; we’re fighting over it. Politicians dither and people die. Lawyers argue the merits of this or that technical point, and more blameless Americans grow sick and slip away. This isn’t just a failure of politics and policy; it’s a failure of basic morality…

This is a powerful statement, and noteworthy because it is not without risk for Dr. Oz, who hosts a syndicated television show. The safe thing would be not to touch a politically sensitive subject, or to stay “above the fray.” He did that when Governor Schwarzenegger invited him to host a health reform summit in 2006, and then again another forum in Los Angeles in 2009. After reform passed, the California Endowment had him do a television ad after the election to help people enroll in some of the new law’s benefits.

But for perhaps the nation’s most trusted doctor, this is the most forceful statement yet, that we need have to get back to the work of improving our health system, rather than just fighting about it.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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