As the Republican convention gets underway today in Tampa, we can expect to hear the politicians and delegates gathered there -- including GOP nominee Mitt Romney -- rail against "ObamaCare," insisting that what we need instead of a "government takeover of health care" is "patient-centered" care, although what that would look like hasn't been disclosed.
If recent statements by Romney and his VP pick Paul Ryan are an indication of the rhetoric we'll likely hear, get ready for speech after speech telling us that ObamaCare will "cut" $716 billion from Medicare and cost small businesses a bundle.
In anticipation of these sorts of misrepresentations, doctors from all over the country -- all members of a four-year-old organization called Doctors for America -- have traveled to Florida to serve as a truth squad. And while they're dispensing facts, they'll also be providing more than a little free care. When the GOPers leave the Sunshine State, the doctors will hop on a bus and head to Charlotte to try to persuade the politicians and delegates who will gather there that they need to start aggressively defending the reform law.
Doctors for America is a bipartisan grassroots organization of 15,000 physicians and medical students from all 50 states. The organization's executive director, Dr. Alice Chen, said the doctors decided on the road trip because "politics, not patients, has been driving the health care debate and is threatening to roll back the promise of a better health care system."
Chen says the mission of the group is to build a health care system that works for everybody, not just the wealthy and fully insured. The group's message: "Stop messing with health care reform because people's lives are at stake." Its "Patients Over Politics Bus Tour" -- which will make stops in Atlanta and Columbia, S.C. and several other cities between Tampa and Charlotte -- will feature press events, town hall-type forums and preventive health screenings.
In both convention cities, the docs will talk about how they and other health care providers are already seeing the Affordable Care Act improve the lives of their patients.
One of the physicians who can attest to that is Evan Saulino of Oregon. "I got involved in health advocacy when I lost two of my patients in 2006," he said. "They died because they did not have coverage or affordable access to the care they needed, despite both working full time." He said he already has seen numerous benefits for his patients as a result of the reform law. He cited as an example seniors who come in for preventive care, now covered for the first time by Medicare, and young people who are able to stay on their parents' policies until age 26.
Kenya Wheeler of California, a patient and supporter of Doctors for America, says he is among many who might not be alive today if not for the Affordable Care Act. He'll be on the trip this week.
"Little did I know that a year after health reform passed, I would need health care to save my own life," Wheeler says on the organization's website.
A year ago, Wheeler suffered three serious seizures as a result of a previously undiagnosed mass in his brain. It turned out to be Lymphoma.
"Over the next six months, I was in and out the hospital getting rounds of high dose chemo that made it almost impossible to maintain my previous activities," he wrote. "To make matters worse, my graduate student insurance had a $400,000 lifetime cap -- a cap that seemed like a lot of money when I was healthy. But with cancer, my health care bills skyrocketed. My friends and family organized fundraising events so I wouldn't run out of coverage in the middle of my treatment. My medical treatments have cost over $600,000 (mostly covered by insurance), but they saved my life."
"I'm more determined than ever to make sure everyone can have the health care they need, that nobody will be told that they have no options because they don't have insurance or they can't afford $600,000 to save their own life."
Earlier this month, the Affordable Care Act made lifetime and annual limits on health insurance policies, including student policies, a thing of the past.
One of the goals of Doctors for America is to collect 5,000 signatures on a Declaration of Support for the reform law during their bus tour. You can follow the group's travels on the Doctors for America Facebook Page.
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