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For a More Perfect Union

By Louis W. Sullivan, MD

This period of transition offers each of us an opportunity to renew and strengthen our commitment to our work together, toward a future that is generous of spirit – and to creating a more just and equitable society where all individuals are honored and where all families and communities can thrive. Change can be difficult and complicated by lack of information, fear and efforts to delay. As we look ahead to 2017, let this holiday season be a time to renew our spirits and strengthen our resolve and commitment to our goal for a healthier nation.

Change that results in significant improvements in the lives and the futures of children and adults suffering afflicted by poor health is a priority worth fighting for. Just last week, a new study from the CDC showed that life expectancy in America dropped for the first time in two decades. Clearly, we need to stay the course!

I’ve known Dr. Tom Price, the nominee for U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, since he was in the Georgia legislature. He is well qualified and hard working. He’ll be the 23rd Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services and only the third health professional to hold that position. The first was Dr. Otis Bowen (who served President Reagan) and the second was me.

Louis W. SullivanIt’s too early to say what policies and actions Dr. Price and the new Administration will set in motion but our common ground is, we want people to have access to healthcare – and access to health insurance. He would like to reduce medical liability because, if we reduce litigation, we could reduce cost and tension in the system. He’s also a fan of health saving accounts. And he has a desire to allow health insurance to be sold across state lines. There are 22 million Americans who have secured health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. It is important that those people don’t lose their health insurance, especially since we have 30 million additional people still in need of health coverage. I am eager to see what strategies will be proposed to improve access to healthcare while reducing costs. Clearly, a delicate strategy is needed to reduce costs and increase access simultaneously. We as a nation need to be sure all our citizens have appropriate access to health insurance and quality care.

I hope that Tom Price’s priorities include addressing rural health care. He is very aware that rural hospitals are closing in Georgia. I believe a greater focus on prevention strategies is important. If we can keep our citizens healthier, they will be more productive -- and put less of a burden on the health care system.

Dr. Price, a practicing orthopedic surgeon for a number of years, is well aware of the access issues, regulations, costs and delays inherent in our health care system. It will be hard to make changes to the system while maintaining existing healthcare coverage, improving access, and reducing costs.

“85 percent of a population’s well being, its quality of life, is due to factors other than medical care – 85 percent. What we do in health care accounts collectively for 15 percent of society’s well being.”

– Dr. David Nash
January 2014

In the years ahead, as in the past, we must reach out to our nation’s leaders and remind them about the very real, enduring issues linked to fairness and poverty. We must push past the barriers – political, social, and economic – to ensure that we achieve the goal of better access to health care for all our citizens. Our perspectives must be heard and addressed as the nation’s health agenda evolves. The social determinants of health cannot be ignored and must be addressed for our nation to succeed. If these were easy issues, we would have fixed them long ago.

Comprehensive access to health care and preventive services needs to be a priority for all. This affects the health and vitality of our nation. We can change lives, strengthen neighborhoods and improve communities if we address critical public health needs with creativity and commitment. No child or adult in our nation should suffer because of lack of access to quality health care and preventive health services.

As our nation continues on its quest for a more perfect union, for the elimination of discrimination and unequal opportunity, let’s look forward with hope and optimism – so we can reinforce our commitment to improved health for all of our citizens.

These goals are important, they are worthy – and they are achievable.

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