Two years from now, all true physicians will be applauding the Affordable Care Act. Those who do not will reveal themselves as untrue physicians.
A true physician’s first concern is, and must be, the health of his or her patients. The true physician’s second concern is for the public health. Taxes, nanny state worries, and politics are lower on the list, and they do not distinguish a physician from other members of society.
Without access to patients, however, physicians cannot work their science-magic. And without access to the health-care system, the public’s disease-fighting options are reduced to lifestyle changes, over-the-counter medications, placebos and barber-surgeons—none of which is going to cure a case of bilobar pneumonia or any other serious illness.
Even critics of the Affordable Care Act acknowledge that it will bring health-care access to 30 million Americans. This will save lives — and not just a few. Last year the New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that, for every million adults added through Medicaid expansion, 5,600 deaths per year were prevented. Extrapolated to 30 million enrollees, that would be akin to curing both malignant melanoma and lupus.
Physicians cannot, of course, wholly divorce professional idealism and economic concerns. Nor can society. It is supremely important that compensation in medicine remains high, otherwise the best and brightest will waste their lives in meaningless pursuits of money on Wall Street. Nobody wants a dullard for a doctor.
Thus, while it is completely fair for taxpayers to ask whether the Affordable Care Act’s predicted cost savings will occur, physicians must be physicians first, and taxpayers second.