As a practicing physician for almost 30 years, I am acutely aware of the tremendous changes our health care system has undergone. On the plus side, breakthrough therapies and medical advances have helped improve outcomes and allowed individuals to live fuller and more productive lives. On the downside, the perils of government overreach in health care have led to escalating costs, less access to care, and an erosion of patient choices and freedom.
The next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which I hope will be Dr. Tom Price, is in a position to make big and positive changes in health care in America.
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Democrats pilloried Price, questioning his ethics, motivation, and values. The man they describe could not be more different than the one I have known since 1988, when we began working together as orthopedic surgeons and medical partners.
Price is an excellent physician who has operated on thousands of patients. While congressional rules prevent him from practicing today, his expert care and reassuring bedside manner are just what our health system needs.
I continue to see patients who had been Price’s patients. They still talk about him and remember his compassion, his skill, and the thoughtful care they received from him. Many comment on how much he improved their lives.
Price’s traits as a healer will serve him well as the overseer of our health system.
HHS has not had a physician at its helm since 1993. That perspective is sorely needed today. Price has the integrity, temperament, and expertise to run a vast federal department that oversees Medicare, Medicaid, public health, child and maternal health, substance abuse, prescription drug and device safety, and so much more.
Allegations about Price’s ethics, motivation, and values are off target. He left his career as a physician when he was at the top of his field — financially successful and a leader in his profession and community — to start at the bottom in political life because he felt the need to influence the policies affecting the physician-patient relationship. He traded sure success and security for the chance to reinvent himself as a politician who rose through the ranks to become a successful leader in Congress, and he may soon be running the Department of Health and Human Services. Making those sacrifices should tell everyone where his heart and thoughts lie, and make us feel secure he is the right person for the job.
Health care is a work in progress. Every day, millions of Americans working as doctors, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, administrative staff, and more do noble work to care for our nation’s sick, elderly, disabled, and infirm. Millions more conduct vital research that improves outcomes and delivers on medical promises. Price understands this overarching mission because he has walked in their shoes.
Most of all, he recognizes that the American people want a more patient-centered system. Regardless of the source of their health care coverage, Americans want to be treated with dignity and respect. They want a system that encourages innovation, choices, and access for all. They want to preserve the physician-patient relationship. Achieving such reforms will not be easy — challenging the status quo never is — but it is necessary.
If Price is confirmed by the Senate — as I surely hope he is — the American people could not have a better partner to help navigate these challenging and changing times.
Steven B. Wertheim, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon with Resurgens Orthopedics in Atlanta, Ga.