Willie Underwood, III, MD, MSc, MPH, the Buffalo, NY urologist elected to the American Medical Association’s Board of Trustees in June, believes physicians must step up and help influence governmental decisions designed to improve and expand health care for all Americans.
“We know our health care system is broken for our patients and for us (as physicians). Urologists have to have a place at the table. We’re all in this boat together and we must be a part of the process moving forward,” Dr. Underwood said in an interview with Urology Times.
With the current political debate raging over Democratic presidential candidate proposals for some version of Medicare for All versus strengthening the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and continuing Republican efforts to scrub the ACA, Dr. Underwood is convinced that the overall outcome must be providing universal coverage for everyone.
“As physicians, we must be part of that conversation,” he said, “because we can’t do what we do best without our patients having access to coverage.”
Medicare for All would ‘destabilize coverage’
Dr. Underwood expressed the AMA’s policy position that enacting a Medicare for All plan would be fraught with problems, reducing coverage options, eliminating patient freedom of choice, injecting partisan politics into coverage policy, threatening access to mental health and contraceptive coverage, and more.
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“It would destabilize coverage for 150 million people who already have insurance coverage. Health care is 20% of our economy, and Medicare for All would destabilize that,” he said, noting that such a plan would really not be a panacea, considering that millions of Medicare patients also pay for Part D drug coverage and supplemental plans to cover the gaps left by the health care plan for the elderly.
“We need to make sure that the health system works for the rich and the poor,” he stressed. “Your economic status, what you are born into, should not limit your quality of life. Poor black people have less than 10 to 12 years of life expectancy than whites, and it looks like Hispanics will be the same. That is wrong and somewhat criminal in a society that is as wealthy as ours.”
These issues must be addressed as health care policy is developed for the future.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” he said, noting that in Buffalo there are five zip codes, dominated by African-American residents, where the mortality rate from disease is 300% higher than the rest of Erie County and the state of New York.
“You have a medical school, a law school, a school of public health, a dental school. Yet there is no strategic plan to fix this,” Dr. Underwood said. “These are some of the things we have to address, and I don’t think Medicare for All will fix that. We can send people to the moon and probes to Mars. We can do whatever we want to do. So, we can fix that. I think if we do, we will be a stronger nation for it.”