TTD: Please share with readers a bit of your background. What led you to your involvement in healthcare advocacy?
My involvement in healthcare began with a mission trip. When I was in college, I traveled to Ethiopia to live and play for a summer. It was the first time I had ever flown on an airplane, and it was the summer after 9/11. During that time, I was fortunate to receive a unique education. At the end of my time there, a friend approached me. Worku was responsible for protecting our building, and I had spent hours talking with him and even more time playing soccer with him. The latter activity was quite difficult, however. As a child, a boiling pot of water had been tipped over and burned his foot, melting the skin so that his soft, pliable infant foot was connected to his shin by scar tissue. As an adult, he walked on his heel with constant pain and obvious discomfort. Yet, he found joy and happiness on the soccer pitch.
When Worku approached me, he had a simple request: 75 US dollars so that he could afford a surgical procedure that would finally fix his foot. My grandfather had given me some money for the summer and I still had most of it. I was happy to help my friend.
TTD: Explain how lack of access to care affects Tennesseans.
There are millions of stories about families forced to make the decision between healthcare and food, clothing, or shelter. Tennessee leads the nation in medical bankruptcies. On top of that, more than 20 counties in Tennessee don’t even have a hospital.
How are we supposed to live happy and healthy lives when quality, affordable healthcare is so far out of reach? To answer that question, I think there are three essential points to consider:
- Government has a place. Most people want an efficient government – agencies making the best use of our tax dollars. Extraordinary sums of public dollars are spent at government safety net hospitals, community health centers, and other entities delivering care. They should be run effectively and transparently, and they should be at the forefront of utilizing new technologies that can improve patient outcomes and reduce recidivism.
- The private sector has a place. Most Americans have relied upon their employers to subsidize their health insurance premiums since World War II. Before that, our healthcare system operated like many low-income countries today. Patients pay out of pocket for everything and often go without even the most basic care. Not only do companies provide financial support to pay for healthcare in America, but many for-profit healthcare companies in the U.S. are designing innovative approaches to healthcare. The best companies run lean operations and have a plan for scale and sustainability that can disrupt the health sector.
- We have to look out for one another. Because I come from a place of privilege, I was able to help my friend Worku. Many Americans are not battling with medical debt or insurance companies, which is exactly why we must care for those Americans who are.
So how do we then go about looking out for others when it comes to healthcare?
Neither the government nor the private sector will stop being important actors in delivering and paying for America’s healthcare system. What I propose is that all Americans become healthcare voters. Make healthcare a priority when it comes to who you elect to office, especially at the state and federal level. It’s important that we vote for candidates who want to build a stronger healthcare system now, in both the private and public sector. It’s important that we prioritize this political conversation before it comes to our household, because it’s already come to someone else’s.
- Be informed about a candidate’s specific plan to fix our country’s healthcare system (if they have one). And then apply your critical thinking skills to it. The biggest issue for the next election is Medicaid Expansion? You can read about it here. Why is it good or bad? What can it do to improve the lives of other Tennesseans?
- Hold candidates accountable. Demand that they speak to the issues affecting people’s lives. They should be holding town halls and releasing their own proposals to address problems if they don’t agree with a specific plan. Too often, politicians focus on divisive issues. They should be in the business of building up our civil society, not tearing it down.
- Inform your friends about how you plan to vote. Start an email and text chain and list the reasons why you’re a healthcare voter and who you believe is going to be an advocate for better healthcare in Tennessee. It doesn’t need to be combative. You’re entitled to your opinion and if it’s a well informed one, then no one should be upset about that.
We all have a place in healthcare, even if we’re not doctors. Understanding our place in the electoral process, that we are the ones who determine our future, is the best way to ensure that Tennesseans remain healthy and happy.