The health care law is due for a second opinion

Donald J. Palmisano Former President, American Medical Association
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Last month, John Chikos of Illinois suffered a massive heart attack — the kind so severe that it is often called a “widow maker.”

The main artery of the man’s heart was blocked and his heart was stopped, but 25 minutes after he lost his pulse entirely, cardiologist Peter Stecy and his team at the Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital’s emergency room were able to finally clear the blocked artery, insert a stent, and save his life.

Chikos later called his survival and equally amazing recovery a “miracle.” I never rule out miracles, but as a surgeon of over 30 years, I‘m inclined to first credit the talented doctors and other medical personnel who called on their extensive expertise and knowledge of today’s incredible medical technology to play whatever their role was in the saving of Mr. Chikos.

The truth is that in America, miracles like these happen almost every day. This is because we have the best health care system in the world.

But it won’t last if we’re not careful.

Less than a year after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, we have reason to believe that American patients — especially seniors with Medicare — will experience an alarming reduction in the quality and accessibility of medical care.

The law’s authors endangered seniors by cutting over $500 billion from our already cash-strapped Medicare program. Making matters worse, they created the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel of unelected bureaucrats who will soon be empowered to cut billions more from Medicare.

If Congress does not act soon to defend America’s seniors from these threats, there is no telling what kind of care Medicare recipients will receive ten — or even five — years down the road. Already there is dramatic evidence of Medicare and Medicaid patients having difficulty finding physicians because of the draconian price-fixing in both the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Congress also must address much-needed changes that were overlooked in the Affordable Care Act, some of which are driving talented doctors like those who operated on Mr. Chikos away from the profession, resulting in reduced access to care for patients.

To remedy this problem, Congress should enact meaningful medical liability reform, allowing doctors to focus on providing care to patients instead of wasting vital resources on needless bureaucracy and unnecessary tests meant to protect them from flagrant lawsuits.

Additionally, a permanent fix for the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula would help ensure that Medicare can keep up with continued advances in medical technology and allow seniors to continue receiving the high quality medical care they need and deserve. And Congress should allow balanced billing and private contracts between patients and physicians without penalty.

Heroic feats by our country’s doctors have not been necessary to remind Americans of how much we have to lose if Congress doesn’t go for a second opinion on the health care law. Polls continue to show that an overwhelming majority of Americans want the law changed. Hopefully legislators in Washington will show that they are finally listening and do what is necessary to ensure that our health care system remains the best in the world.

This way, “miracles” like John Chikos’s can remain everyday occurrences.

Donald J. Palmisano, MD, JD, FACS, a former President of the A.M.A, is spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights, a group of more than 10,000 physicians dedicated to improving the quality and availability of healthcare for all Americans. He is a clinical professor of surgery and clinical professor of medical jurisprudence at Tulane University School of Medicine.