Making a health care diagnosis

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Health care is something we need to get right. It comprises over one-fourth of our federal budget. It’s nearly one-fifth of our entire economy. And, as one of the largest expenses for households and businesses, it’s likely the single biggest drag on our economic growth.

The only predictable thing about health care is that costs will continue to rise unless we have some sensible and meaningful reform. Yet, despite this fact, the sum total of our current debate seems to be either “Medicare for All” or “Repeal Obamacare”? The first is not politically possible at this time, and in my opinion goes too far. The second has proved politically impossible thus far, and doesn’t go far enough.

This legislating is hard; who knew? Congressional Republicans had over seven years to come up with a solution they could get passed. Where is it? Dave Loebsack voted for the Affordable Care Act. He has to have heard complaints from constituents. What are his proposals to fix health care?

To figure out what we might do to reform health care is difficult work. We have to first understand the issue as fully as possible. We have to look back at prior policy decisions and see where they may have gone wrong. This looking back shouldn’t be a blame game, as that’s not helpful. But we have to first make an accurate diagnosis before we can consider treatment options.

We then have to shift our focus to the future. In what direction do we want to go? Do we want to emulate Canada or the U.K., which have their own problems with their health care systems? I’d suggest that we might instead want to look at Singapore as a potential model. Sure, it’s a small city-state, but it has one of the most efficient health care systems in the world, provides universal coverage for its citizens, and has excellent outcomes in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, and quality of life.

While Singapore is the model I would choose, in the end, our result must be uniquely American. It must reflect our values, which I believe includes health care that is of high-quality, that is much less expensive, and which is available to all Americans.

Getting our next health care policy right will require broad input and support. In medicine, we frequently call upon our consultants from other specialties to help us with patients who have complex problems. It is no different here. Republicans need to get input from Democrats who are interested in real reform. Those involved should not be married to a specific ideology or some prevailing political slogan, but instead committed to finding realistic solutions. Special interest groups from the health care industry can be consulted, but they should not write legislation that our elected officials then simply pass along as their own work.

By my count, we currently have 18 health care providers serving in Congress; none are from Iowa. Eighteen out of 535 members of Congress is a small proportion, but that’s a good starting point for a working group on health care. I’d like to join them to help forge a better path.

I’m not sure what the future for health care holds. I only know that the future will look much different from the past, as our present course is unsustainable.

• Christopher Peters is a Coralville surgeon and a candidate for Congress in Iowa’s 2nd District

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