This Is Not a Game

This isn't a game. Real people's health and lives are at stake. The long term fiscal stability of the United States is on the line. We may not choose to reform the health care system this week, but it must be done.
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Know what I plan to do if health care reform fails? What I've been doing for the last year. I'll spend my time pointing out the problems in the US health care system, talking about the options for reform, and encouraging others to act on them.

Know what I plan to do if health care reform succeeds? The exact same thing. We'll still have a lot of work to do.

Know what you'll never see me doing? Treating this like a "win" or "loss."

This isn't a game; it never was. Like it or not, the problems in the United States health care system are real. I have cared for children who have -- literally -- died because of bad insurance or no insurance. I have personally known people who have lost everything because of a medical tragedy. And I swear to you, these illnesses involve children who were not lazy or shiftless or deserving of these problems in any way.

I'm not declaring that you have to support health care reform as it's currently being proposed. I'm also not saying that if you oppose reform then you are somehow to blame for misfortune or death.

But I have to tell you, the glee I'm seeing at its potential failure is unsettling.

This isn't a game. Real people's health and lives are at stake. The long term fiscal stability of the United States is on the line. We may not choose to reform the health care system this week, but it must be done.

If you oppose this reform, and I know many people who do, then you have to come up with another plan. Not only that, but you have to come up with a realistic way of getting that plan accomplished. I don't know nearly as many people who meet those criteria.

I'm watching election returns in Massachusetts and reading bloggers who are simply giddy about what's going on. Unfortunately, most seem to be excited not for what a Scott Brown victory means in terms of a policy agenda, but for what it means for potentially stopping an opposing agenda.

I'm watching people partying about the potential death of health care reform.

I've always been prepared for this bill to fail. There have been many times I've not been thrilled with it. And I would continue to stoke my opposition if I saw anyone else proposing a viable alternative. They're not.

But I've not prepared myself for the absolute delight some people seem to be taking in killing this bill.

This is professional for me. I'm a physician and a researcher and I am acutely aware of the problems I've seen facing patients and understood through many, many studies on the subject. This is personal for me. I have a chronic illness, as do many others in my family, and I know how difficult it can be to manage your health and finances even when there is nothing you've done wrong.

I know this will sound naive, but the politics of reform have always been secondary to the actual policy. I don't care who proposes it. I don't care who succeeds from it. I don't care which party does it or what it means for anything else. I just want reform.

I have no agenda. I have no ulterior motive. I don't want reform because it's necessary for future political success. I just want reform. And, for the first time, I'm really upset about this. I see people, on both sides of the aisle, using this issue for political purposes and not policy purposes.

Imagine the rage expressed by military families if people in the United States were gleeful about the death of policy that was intended to help our soldiers. Again, I'm not saying that you can't oppose such legislation. But we, as a society, would demand that the debate about such legislation maintain a certain decorum. We don't politicize the military. It's not a game.

And yet we treat health care as somehow different. Why? Are people's lives not at stake? Are they somehow less important? Why is it permissible to politicize this issue?

Where are the serious counter-proposals? How is it that we only seem able to address this once or twice a generation? Where is the other side?

If, as a Congressperson or Senator, you won't vote for this bill, what will you vote for? Declare it. How will you cover those who lack insurance? How will you insulate people from medical bankruptcy? How will you protect those with pre-existing conditions? How will you contain costs? Seriously, show me the counter-proposal and tell me how you will get it passed.

It's not enough to just say no. You wanted this job. You asked for it. So represent us. Tell us what you're going to do.

Tomorrow I will wake up and keep doing what I do. I'll point out the problems in the US health care system, talk about the options for reform, and encourage others to act on them.

Next week we'll have a pretty good sense of whether or not this bill will pass. And whether it does or not, I will keep on doing those things. If it fails, nothing will have changed. If it succeeds, there will still be much to do.

I won't celebrate a "win". This isn't a game. And if the bill fails, so be it.

I just wish so many of you weren't so happy about it.

Read more about health care policy and get your questions answered at Rational Arguments.

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