Opinion: Democrats’ Detroit debate must speak to patients’ concerns

Paul Chuba

When the 14 men and women take the debate stage in Detroit for two nights, they should remember that families in Michigan and across the nation have one thing foremost on their mind: health care.

Democratic presidential candidates, left to right, Democratic presidential candidate New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, . Rep. Tim Ryan D-OH, former Housing Sec. Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker D-NJ., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Tex., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN. , Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI., Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and former U.S. Rep. John Delaney (MD), listen to a question during the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Miami.

As a physician, I look forward to hearing each candidate’s prescription for what ails our patients, friends, neighbors and family members. Our country may be deeply divided politically, but we all have a serious health care problem in common. In my opinion it’s high time we became more respectful of one another and start to work seriously to solve this. 

Beyond the broken bones, the hyperthyroidism, the cancer, obesity, COPD and other maladies big and small that doctors like myself see in our clinics, hospitals, urgent cares and emergency departments, American patients today face the additional burdens of unaffordable prescription drugs and ever-increasing deductibles, co-pays and premiums.

One of every 2 patients in America has a preexisting condition — they are terrified of higher health care costs and loss of coverage, Chuba says.

One of every 2 patients in America has a preexisting condition — they are terrified of higher health care costs and loss of coverage. Some are on the brink of financial ruin because of medical bills.

Our patients have already told the pollsters health care is their No. 1 concern. Across the country they are stressing out at their kitchen tables. They are pleading with their doctors to find cheaper alternatives and generic drugs. They are starting GoFundMe pages with heartbreaking stories. They are angry. And make no mistake about it: They are going to vote.    

We hope the Democratic Party candidates are paying attention and will address health care policy in a serious and thoughtful way. Americans pay the most for health care in the developed world, yet we’re dying at a younger age.

I recently joined a group of doctors and health care professionals from across the country to help drive the health care debate to the front of our national discourse. Our group, the Committee to Protect Medicare and Affordable Care, will hold politicians accountable for their health care decisions. We are listening to what policymakers say and watching what they do because their actions affect patients in our hospitals and clinics.

In the past two years, those actions have been devastating. An executive order weakening the health care law was signed in the first week of the current presidency and 7 million people have lost health care since 2016. I understand there are plans to cut another 845 billion from Medicare. Prescription drug costs are increasing. Seniors are splitting pills. 

It is a scandal that insulin has tripled in price. This drug was discovered in 1922 and recombinant insulin has been produced since 1986. We are getting the shaft. Diabetics are skipping insulin! Parents are choosing between groceries and the EpiPen that may save their child’s life.

When the Democrats meet in Detroit, they will trade barbs over how to expand health care for Americans. Each candidate may have a different name for their plan and the details will be important. Nonetheless it looks like all the men and women running want Americans to have health care.

The day after the debates in Detroit, the pundits will squabble over semantics and likeability. But here's what I want to know: Will America finally have a government that will stop trying to kick people off their health care?

Dr. Paul Chuba is a radiation oncologist at Grosse Pointe.