Future doctors have a lot at stake, even if they don’t know it: A student’s take on the Affordable Care Act
on November 26th, 2013 No Comments
“You’re going into medicine? Let me give you a piece of advice: Don’t.”
A community physician said those words to me more than three years ago, right before I started medical school, and I’ve heard variations on the theme ever since: Medicine is a thankless profession. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s hardly the path to riches. You can’t spend enough time with patients. It’s depressing.
In recent days, I asked several peers at different medical schools what they thought of the ACA. The overwhelming answer: “I don’t know enough to have an opinion.”
Now I stand poised to enter the world of MDs. And with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, my classmates and I, the newest generation of doctors, look out at the horizon without knowing the shape our careers will have. We are reasonably sure about one thing — along with providing unprecedented access to insurance for Americans, the new health care law will change how we practice medicine, including how many patients we see and possibly how we get reimbursed.
Yet when the endless wave of media coverage crashes over us, it’s rare to find an examination of how the law will affect us, your future health-care providers. Instead, we get a big dose of political posturing from all sides.
Why does this matter? Because the first and probably saddest truth I can tell you is that most medical students know very little about the Affordable Care Act, or about insurance and health economics in general. We get the occasional lecture about health systems, but the information shows up on none of our exams or evaluations. In recent days, I asked several peers at different medical schools what they thought of the ACA. The overwhelming answer: “I don’t know enough to have an opinion.”
I find myself in a unique position. Thanks to Stanford and NBC News, I’m spending the year learning more about health journalism. So I’ve pulled my head out of the textbooks and hospitals and gotten a chance to really see how health-care issues affect communities. If not for this opportunity, I probably would have been one of those students who knew next to nothing about a law that will alter my career.
As medical students, we’re exposed to certain physicians who don’t consider costs and money; they tell us that such thoughts are not only unbecoming of a physician but also a distraction from caring about your patient.
I don’t see it the same way. Physicians are meant to be advocates for patients, and that means pursuing appropriate medical treatment in the context of a patient’s real life. Being uninsured is a health problem, pure and simple. A 2009 study revealed a direct correlation between lack of insurance and increased mortality, suggesting that nearly 45,000 American adults die each year because they have no medical coverage.
Whether or not you support the Affordable Care Act, that figure alone makes it our business to care about this issue.