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Comparing Healthcare Reform to Physician Work-Life Balance


Just like we have personal limits, our country has limits to what it can and should do for the health of its citizens.

Surprisingly, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more liberal. I grew up in a fairly conservative home, and my parents haven’t gotten any more liberal. So, we sometimes have rather energetic conversations about different political issues. Last week, I went out to dinner with my parents and we discussed healthcare reform. I am a big advocate of a single-payer system. My parents are big advocates of the status quo. In all fairness to them, they have great health coverage and do not see what I see - the harsh realities of no insurance or under-insurance.

                As we started the discussion, my dad told me that in Canada, he wouldn’t qualify to receive a kidney transplant since he’s now 65 years old. Now, he’s in good health and would probably enjoy that new kidney for another 15 to 20 years. However, as I pointed out to him, he doesn’t need a kidney because he’s in good health, so it’s not really a fair comparison. I also pointed out that if it was a choice between his new kidney and vaccinations for all the kids in my children’s school, I’d go with the vaccinations. Unfortunately, in our ballooning deficit/financial-cliff culture, we don’t think this way.

Maybe we should. It’s just like work-life balance. It’s great to be a researcher, author, editor, teacher, physician, medical director, and community educator. Just like it’s great to be a room mom, a wife, a mother, a sister/daughter, a scrapbooker, a Sunday school teacher, and a yoga instructor. Just like it’s great to be able to afford to give organ transplants to whoever needs one, regardless of age or health status, and to give everyone vaccinations and new medications and diagnostic testing and so on.  But, just like we have personal limits, our country has limits to what it can and should be doing for the health of its citizens.

We’ve all felt the effects of being overextended and overcommitted: Things slip between the cracks, we focus on details instead of the big picture, we try to do everything and end up doing nothing well, we get stressed, angry, tired, and resentful. Think of our healthcare system - trying to simultaneously provide preventive care for everyone (trying, I said, not succeeding!) and leading the world in innovative surgeries, pharmaceuticals, and diagnoses. No wonder the cracks are starting to show in our foundation. It is unsustainable to continue on this path. 

I think I know the answer to the healthcare crisis - just like every other American. I’m not sure how it will eventually all settle out. However, it is interesting to me to see what I struggle with on a small scale - my own little world - play out on the global stage.  Limits are limits. 

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