Opinion | Medical costs are an emergency. I know, I’m an ER doc.

Rob Davidson has more than 20 years’ experience as an emergency physician and is executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare and Affordable Care. He is a resident of Spring Lake.

The 60-year-old man came into my emergency room at 2 a.m., complaining of trouble breathing. He needed an inhaler he couldn’t afford. Even as he was strapped to an oxygen tank, he kept talking about how he needed to get back to his job as a long-haul trucker. “Maybe if I work extra,” he said, “I can pay for my medications.”

A woman had just gotten a new job when she walked into my emergency room. She needed some tests done. Instead, she haggled, trying to convince me that she didn’t need all those tests. Her deductibles were $13,000, nearly half the $30,000 salary at her new gig. She finally agreed to the tests, saying: “I’m so far in medical debt, what’s another few thousand dollars?”

As an ER physician, I see patients like these every day. They work hard. They play by the rules. Yet they’re struggling to get by because of prescription drugs and medical procedures that get more expensive every year. I see patients who worry about losing their healthcare because of cuts to Medicaid. I see patients who have so many chronic conditions when they walk through the doors that treating them requires an entire team of healthcare professionals.

These are just a few of the people who will be most affected by what happens in our nation’s healthcare debate. In Michigan, one out of every two people has a preexisting condition. Medical debt is the number one reason for personal bankruptcies in the United States.

We all need healthcare. However hard we work at staying healthy, however many gallons of celery juice we drink every morning and miles we run, virtually everyone from infants and pregnant moms to seniors and everyone in between is going to find themselves seeing a doctor at some point in their lives.

And, unfortunately, the U.S. healthcare system – essentially a necessity for all of us – is being rigged to favor for-profit drug and insurance corporations. In a nutshell, it just isn’t working for ordinary Americans.

Now, an organization of doctors and healthcare providers who see firsthand what patients must go through in hospitals, ERs and clinics across America want to lend our voices to the healthcare dialogue. The Committee to Protect Medicare and Affordable Care is mobilizing in Michigan and nationwide to drive the healthcare debate so patients always come first.

Our goal is simple: to ensure politicians keep Medicare strong and work toward more affordable healthcare.

We took an oath to do no harm. Yet increasingly today, doctors and healthcare professionals see harm inflicted on middle-class and working families when corporate greed trumps people’s wellbeing. These folks are struggling to afford their healthcare premiums, co-pays and life-saving prescription drugs. Many are worried that politicians will let insurance companies take their healthcare away because of a pre-existing condition.

People are spending twice as much on prescription drugs compared with the 1990s. Drug company profits increased from $534 billion to $775 billion between 2006 and 2015, according to the General Accounting Office. Meanwhile, drug corporations pay their CEOs tens of millions of dollars each year.

And health insurance costs in April spiked 10.7 percent compared with a year ago, the largest increase since at least April 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Every year, healthcare costs Americans an average of $10,000, the most expensive in the developed world, even as our health outcomes such as infant mortality and life expectancy are among the worst.

For-profit drug and insurance corporations are squeezing American families. They deserve leaders who will fix this.

We strongly believe the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress are not helping. In fact, the Trump Administration is trying to eliminate the federal law that protects people with preexisting conditions and expanded healthcare to tens of millions of once-uninsured Americans. On July 9, this fight begins in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the stakes are very high.

Americans demand politicians stand up to for-profit drug and insurance corporations. As doctors, we are ready to hold President Trump and politicians in Congress accountable when they allow corporations to jack up costs and deny people healthcare.

We believe every American deserves the freedom and security of quality healthcare they can afford.

No American should go bankrupt or lose their homes because they had to pay huge healthcare bills.

Nobody who needs a medication to survive should be splitting pills or skipping doses because they can’t afford to renew the prescription.

No family should have to beg on GoFundMe for care their insurance companies denied.

Healthcare affects all of us. And each of us has an opportunity to work together, roll up our sleeves, and ensure politicians put people first, not corporate profits.

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Cliff Yankovich
Thu, 06/27/2019 - 2:11pm

Preach it! Was diagnosed and successfully treated for throat cancer (not a smoker) about 6 years ago. My first thought on hearing the diagnosis - "Oh wow - am I going to die?" Followed immediately by "How are we going to pay for this?" It is silly for anyone in the US to face bankruptcy because of being sick. People in other countries cannot wrap their heads around what we go through here. Drugs should be getting LESS expensive - they have been producing insulin for DECADES and the price goes UP? Total horse hockey. Medicare for all - just like every other developed country. The CEO of BC/BS of Michigan made 19.2 million dollars last year - that is $52,700 a day every day of the year. He didn't cure cancer - he does not perform delicate brain surgery saving the lives of children. He works for a ^&*(ing insurance company.

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 3:45pm

If the public could just be educated to how the "laws" of economics do NOT apply to the medical industrial complex. The more back surgeons you have in town, the more back surgeries people get...whether they need it or not. After 45 years of trying to figure out how to do it better, I'm so frustated that I think it all just needs to be junked and start over again using rationality instead of huge profits for the few.

J. Katakowski
Sat, 06/29/2019 - 7:15am

That would be a 1 tier health system or medicare for all. It can work but the GOP republicans will not allow it.

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 3:45pm

If the public could just be educated to how the "laws" of economics do NOT apply to the medical industrial complex. The more back surgeons you have in town, the more back surgeries people get...whether they need it or not. After 45 years of trying to figure out how to do it better, I'm so frustated that I think it all just needs to be junked and start over again using rationality instead of huge profits for the few.

Sat, 06/29/2019 - 12:17am

I actually got worse care under Obamas healthcare , its funny but every time I listen to out President he is always saying he's not touching our medicare, I think a lot of Doctors should just stop charging such high prices for their services, I shouldn't have to be charged to pay off your student loans or pay for your big fancy house, you drs took an oath to take care of people, so its not just drug companies its also the Doctors , and hospitals to charge outrageous prices. So put the blame on everyone involved, including Obamacare

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 10:57am

Do you realize that most doctors charge less per visit than a plumber to just show up at your door? When you take into account what their overhead is, salaries and benefits for employees, office rent and ridiculous administrative cost related to all sorts of compliance with laws, rules, regulations... What you often see in the news regarding medical services pricing is by the hospitals and drug companies, not the doctors.

Sun, 06/30/2019 - 5:48pm

Dr. Davidson seems to place the price drugs above the price of every-thing else. Does the doctor believe the people developing and manufacturing the medications, the ones processing the medication for safety and for FDA approval are extraneous and should be cut to reduce the cost of medications because they are less valuable in the delivery of medications than all of those who are part of the process for providing other medical care treatments or those involved with the hospital or the ER? Does he also believe all those researchers and others that work on medications that fail to receive FDA approval to be cut to costs? Does he fail to understand that drugs take years of investment and researchers’ creativity to develop while not generating any income and must be financed by other drugs?
The good doctor justifies all his comments by condemning for profit businesses, “…is being rigged to favor for-profit drug and insurance corporations.” I wonder if the doctor considered who, when and why those medications were developed. Doesn’t he appreciate that drugs aren’t offered with FDA approval and meeting a minimum standard of benefit? Does the doctor believe that price is due solely to profits and not from such things as the FDA approval process, research, development, manufacturing, distribution have to be paid for?
The cost of medical care may seem high because the results aren’t fully valued, but what is disappointing is when blaming without sufficient knowledge and understanding of whom and what is being attacked. I suspect Dr. Davidson has more knowledge of the Emergency Room and hospital operations than of the drug industry, yet he offers no thoughts about ER/hospital costs to the patients and focus his attacks on those providing us with drugs that treat our conditions and symptoms that weren’t available in the past.

What must Dr. Davidson’s view on Zolgensma, treatment for spinal muscular atrophy in children [400 who suffer and die from this condition in US] under 2 years old be. It is a one-time gene treatment that cures the incurable and it cost $2.1 million. That seems to be an extremely high and yet what might the costs and risks be, should the for profit company sell it at a loss to be subsidized by other drugs [raising their prices] or not offer it at all or not do research on such diseases or cures? Has the doctor considered the unintended consequences of his attitude and attacks? I wonder if the good doctor would consider doing no harm to a patient not treated because research wasn't or the FDA approval process was never started or the manufacturing and the availability to prescribe do happen because of one of the key people in the process was discourage from being part of the process or the process itself was disrupted because of attacks by a doctor and their peers over price .

middle of the mit
Tue, 07/02/2019 - 1:59am

Isn't it funny how you can find extraneous measures to defend the medical industry and their outrageous costs and frankly profiteering off of insulin, epidermals and epipens but when it comes to road building, you can all of a sudden find so many ways (yet not tell anyone what those ways are) of how to save money and get the same thing for the same price?

Come on man.If your big idea is we are gonna get Gucci roads with dollar store prices for Michigans , why can't you tell us why your Gucci health care for dollar store prices won't work too?

You Republicans already hampered our auto healthcare with the very same cost constraints that you said would put doctors out of business if we used lesser constraints on them. Medicare pays more than workers comp! What have ya got to say to that?

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 10:37pm

You seem to think all the medical care we have available magically happens, you give no respect to the people who sacrifice to create what you take as everyone's right. You fail to appreciate the financial and personal risks people take in developing and providing what we have and what others around the world benefit from. You want and want and aren't willing to pay nor willing to encourage those who provide it to you and to others. You seem to have no sense of how 'profits' are the ultimate accountability and transparency, no matter where it is, a socialist society or a capitalist society the life blood of an urban society is money and that money has to be earned by someone for doing something. You just don’t seem to believe it is anyone that works for a for profit company.
Being one of those growing up with little, at a time when what we have today wasn't even a dream, I am appreciative of what it has taken to achieve our abundance, I am appreciative of those who use their creativity, effort, and money to provide for this ever growing abundance. I appreciate the system that has not only given the world the beacon of liberty but provided the means for our abundance and for the growing abundance around the world.
You can whine about the cost, but I would encourage you to learn what goes into those costs, you can claim everything others get is Gucci, when in reality it is what is readily available to the vast majority of Americans and to the rest of the world seems like Gucci. And if that is what people do with the moneys they get from providing for our wants and needs so be it. I have no envy for how much other have, I didn't have it when I was young, I have seen the differences as I age, and I don't care, because what I see today is so much better than what we had when I was young [food, clothing, housing, and even health care] that if it is the 'wealth gap' that has provided it, thanks.
I am not road expert, but there are practical experiences that demonstrate how disappointing our roads are managed, the use of a CPM or Pert chart would help. As for 'Workers' Comp' by trying to compare it to Medicare suggests a lack of understanding of the system, its purpose, and the range of coverage. "Worker's Comp' is a system established by government to assure expedite care, it is government controlled and it uses history to set payments. It also ensures, in the case of a homeowner or other entities, that a contractor’s employee that comes to a house to do work that will get care for an injury and will not sue the homeowner. Employers pay for it. 'Worker's Comp' is determined by activity, locations, and employer, Medicare includes conditions for lifestyle choices, and full range of events and is politically driven and paid for by the government. Your comparison is a classic 'apples and oranges' comparison.
Your comments to me you always want people or government to get more [things, services, money], but you fail to mention that either has any responsibilities or accountability. I regularly included suggestions of individual and organizational responsibilities. Where I place no blame and yet here we are and you are again blaming those providing what you want for creating ‘outrageous’ cost for those who are the beneficiaries of the drugs.
I wish we were focusing on defining problems not about blame, that we were trying to understand the root causes and talking about ways to prevent or overcome them.
As for the insulin you claim is overpriced, do you think it is the same insulin that was available 70 years ago, do you think that it hasn't been improved by ongoing research, do you truly believe that insulin should be a static drug and that it shouldn't be changed/built on? All you seem to see is money; you never seem to consider what it takes to deliver what that money buys, or are appreciative of the benefits.

Fri, 07/05/2019 - 1:05am

To distill this comment, controlling prices because it seems high is comparing socialism [government control] to capitalism [marketplace control]; socialism is having some ONE decide when is enough, price/cost is enough, value is enough, we have enough, even what will be enough, and even who has done enough, while capitalism is about encouragement . Capitalism never tries to say when there is enough.
By deciding when there is enough, Socialism puts limits on imagination, creativity, on effort/productivity of individuals, and limits the choices of the community. Capitalism is the reinforcement of imagination, of creativity, of effort/productivity, of ingenuity of the individual[s]. Captialism facilitates improvement, evolution, choice, exceeding our imaginations, its only limit set by what the marketplace identifies as fair value.
You see cost, I see potential. You seem to look for the few that may not benefit, but I see the many more that are and will benefit. You seem to believe we have enough, but I see the potential for better and better, and that more and more will benefit.

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 8:18pm

Sorry duane. A patent on a drug lasts 17 years. Way too much.
And over $19 million a year for any corporate honcho, like BC/BS, cannot be justified, not when we spend twice as much for healthcare than any other developed country with not as good outcomes.

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 11:04pm


So you want to be the person that determines everyones pay, what criteria will you use? Will it be the impact they have on the health and well being of each person using their product or serice or will it be on the entertainment value they provide to each peron? Or should it be the knowledge and skills, and the responsibilities that they have in their job?

How do you judge that the head of an $80 billion dollar company with 10s of thousands of employees, the investment of billions for the future of all those employees, their stockholders, and for the health of all future customers is over paid at $19 million while a baseball player over a 20 year career earns in salary alone over a half a billion dollars and in his best year he never hit better than .333 or ever won a golden glove award? Is the difference you like the flash of the baseball player and who he is dating and you know nothing about the CEO and his family or life style and that his pay may rise and fall with stock price of company performance while the baseball player got his millions each year whether his team did well or not?

How much do you think the price of a single prescription would change if the CEO earned only a dollar a year? How many millions of prescription does the company provide each year? Is it 19 million or more or less?
I really don't care how much people in a relatively small group at the highest levels make. They have responsibilities only that small group has, they have experience, knowledge, and skills that their employer will pay that much for and they have to live a lifestyle, with people always denigrating them for being at the top of their profession while fawning over the baseball player and others who provide less value to the society as a whole.

I don't envy Bill Gates or Warren Buffet either, and am glad they have been so successful for different reasons. I am grateful we have a system that society or people's within the society can benefit from their successes.