Vivek Murthy

Vivek Murthy

Vivek Murthy, MD, is an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He is also the co-founder and president of Doctors for America.

Kennedy Reminds Us Whom We Are Fighting For

Ted Kennedy represented a different and increasingly rare breed of politician. It was his temperament, his ability to maintain reason and compassion in the face of political differences, that brought such grace and honor to politics. In a nation often cynical about politicians, Ted Kennedy stood tall as a man of integrity who people could trust.

He was also a man of genuine compassion whose anonymous acts of kindness to friends and constituents number in the thousands. In my home state of Massachusetts, it seems that everyone has a personal story about how Kennedy helped them or someone they know. As a physician who is privileged to serve people of all ages and backgrounds, I heard these stories often and they were always heartening.

Sadly, these qualities have become increasingly rare in politics over the last few decades. While the conduct of politics has always had a Machiavellian edge, the bitter rancor that has developed between parties and politicians has poisoned discourse and alienated many Americans.

Amid this growing crisis of confidence, the issue of health care has emerged this year as a campaign of principle. While it was the cause of Sen. Kennedy's lifetime, it is also an issue that ties together Americans of all regions and political persuasions. It is rare to find an individual these days whose life has not been touched by the shortcomings of our health-care system. Whether it is a personal bankruptcy from medical costs, a relative denied coverage by an insurance company, or a friend who can't afford increasingly expensive medications, all of us have been affected in some way by the current health care crisis. In a nation as prosperous as ours, it is wrong, simply wrong, that millions of children and the elderly do not have access to good health care.

The passing of Sen. Kennedy should not push us to work for health reform for his sake. That is not what he would have wanted. Instead, it should remind us of who we need to be fighting for at this moment: our American brothers and sisters who need a better health care system now more than ever; our parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren who each year stand at greater risk of losing the coverage they need and deserve. These were the people Kennedy fought for - not because he had to but because he knew it was the right thing to do.

Passing meaningful health reform should never be a political wedge. It is a moral issue. It should be a cause that unites all Americans.

While such sentiments seem almost naïve in the current political environment, Senator Kennedy's legacy is exactly that this should not be so. His life and his death teach us that we all have a part to play in making the dream of better health care a reality. As citizens, we cannot always look to Washington for leadership and inspiration. Sometimes, Washington needs to be reminded of the core values that make this country great. In times like this, we the people need to speak up from our far flung homes and communities. We need to bring our ideas, values, and energy to the national debate. When we speak together with passion, armed with information, and anchored by our principles, Washington has no choice but to listen.

Senator Kennedy will not be here to see the day when every person has the health care they deserve. He will not be here to see our country fulfill one of its greatest moral obligations to its people.

But after decades of grueling effort, health care reform is finally within our grasp. The question for us is: what will we do with this moment? Will we allow the voices of doubt and fear to anchor us to an unsustainable status quo? Or will we march forward with the steadfast commitment of Kennedy, knowing that the first step toward real change will not be perfect but it will move toward a better future?

This is the choice that America now faces. The decisions we make and the integrity we bring to this debate will affect the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come. Senator Kennedy, called us to work together as one people for this higher cause. Let us answer this call and pass meaningful health reform this year. Millions of our fellow Americans are counting on us.

By Vivek Murthy  |  August 27, 2009; 11:35 AM ET  | Category:  Health Care Reform Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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As a primary care physician, let me echo the voices of the previous physician comments as well as Dr. Murthy.

Access to health care should be a fundamental right enjoyed by every American. It is simply unacceptable that nearly 50 million Americans lack health insurance, millions more are underinsured, and at least 18,000 uninsured Americans die each year due to lack of care (a conservative estimate by the bipartisan Institute of Medicine).

I have yet to meet an uninsured or underinsured patient who wished to continue to lack coverage. I find it disheartening that the loudest calls against expanding access to care often come from those who themselves have access to the best care.

But if the moral argument so passionately put forward by Ted Kennedy for universal access to health care is not to your liking, then let me propose another one: economic self-interest.

If you like your current health care but don't wish to help expand it for others, keep this in mind. Our current health system is in a fiscally untenable position. Medicare will be insolvent by 2017. Private health plan premiums will continue to rise by double digits through this coming decade, as they did the last decade. Stagnant wage growth due in large part to rising insurance premiums will continue unabated. We will keep paying twice as much per capita than any other country for care, that on a population outcome level, can only be described as substandard (see Commonwealth Fund and Institute of Medicine reports).

But there is a way to change this by supporting health reform this year. By passing legislation that would expand access and begin to contain costs, all the while promoting the high quality care that doctors and patients alike expect and deserve. Doing so won't be easy, but it is the right thing to do on both fiscal and moral grounds.

Posted by: Dr_B | August 27, 2009 10:21 PM
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Unfortunately, I think the previous poster is dealing with old facts that do not correctly reflect the state of any health care bill currently under consideration. The links he provides are to old news articles that mention a proposed tax on certain health care benefits. At the time, the proposed tax was not warmly received, and it has since "died."

A review of the bills currently under consideration reveals that no such tax is proposed in any of the bills.

As a physician, I support the efforts of legislators who are working to provide us with a real fix to the very real and growing problems we face in health care, including a growing number of uninsured or underinsured, lack of portability in health coverage, difficulty in obtaining coverage even by those who can afford it, and ballooning costs.

I worry about the ongoing fearmongering that is going on regarding this issue, and I hope that we all can recognize the need to have an honest dialogue in effort to cure our nation's ills.

Posted by: DocP | August 27, 2009 6:52 PM
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I really do not understand this previous comment. Let me tell you what I see in the ER where I practice Pediatric medicine. In the ER I play catch up for diseases which have spiralled out of control because patients cannot afford regular checkups. Every time I walk into the ER I see the burden of patients who pay a tax-- they pay a tax of being less healthy because they do not have insurance. Let me tell you about one patient who paid this high tax. The patient was a 12 year old child who suffered a large stroke. The child had had a previous stroke when he was 7 years old, but because the mother was the sole bread winner and would have had to pay out of pocket, she did not seek the recommended medical care. The child excelled from age 7 until age 12 when he came into my ER with a massive stroke. This child's health suffered because of our broken health care system; this is a system which everyday forces people to choose between providing for their families and accessing care. So, please don't label a bill which extends health care to more Americans as unfair. I see the results of an unfair system every single day.

Posted by: PedsDoc | August 27, 2009 6:49 PM
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This bill is so unfair, some pay extra tax others not.

Let me tell you how this bill work. THE TRUTH

Each month you will see a new entry on the deductible column of your SS, retirement and work check. It is called "Health Care Tax." It is just a tax. If you want health insurance you will have to pay a premium or be fined. The medicare mess will not change except rising cost, and if you keep you current insurance you will just pay the extra tax--150-200.

Congress, illegals and unions are exempt from "Health Care Tax" So if you work with an illegal they will get extra take home pay because of no health care tax.

Ask you congressmen why the exemptions if they feel the bill is great...Then you will see the truth all else lies.

Union Exemptions at

Congress and governement employees exempt.

Posted by: billisnice | August 27, 2009 5:26 PM
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