Bios of the Baby Boomers for Balanced Health Care
I care about out of control health care spending and the more-is-better culture of health care because I want to leave a legacy for future generations. I live in rural Minnesota, about 180 miles northwest of the Twin Cities and just north of Lake Wobegon, where my wife and I raised six children into adulthood. I have been engaged in public policy work that impacts rural America for much of my working life, including healthcare policy. After a heart attack, public policy became personal. I became involved as a patient voice with the Institute of Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI) as a member of their Patient Advisory Council. That led to further participation in ICSI's work as a patient voice, including an effort to reduce the cost of care. I am also involved as a community member in PartnerSHIP 4Health, part of Minnesota's effort to improve the health of all Minnesotans and decrease health care costs.
I am passionate about something I call "Citizen Health Care," which means that health care is the work of all of us, not just professionals. The idea for Baby Boomers for Balanced Health Care came to me when I was sitting at a professional conference listening to troubling presentations about the looming health care spending crisis. I realized that no one was talking about the cultural norms that shape our "more is better" expectations as patients, families, and communities. I thought that if Mothers Against Drunk Driving could change the face of dangerous driving in America, why can't other activated citizens launch a cultural conversation about "just right" health care— neither too little or too much? I am a professor at the University of Minnesota, a marriage and family therapist, a community organizer, and a grandfather who cares deeply about the legacy we leave to that generation.
I joined the "less is more health care" working group because I care deeply about people. I believe in health care for all. There are differing beliefs about and needs for health care. My voice in the conversation is as a "consumer" of health care, an ordinary citizen, if you will. Having grown up in the era of medical miracles like penicillin, organ transplants, and polio vaccine, I bought into "more is better." That proved to be an error, a mistake in fact, as too much medicine can be bad medicine. I now know that medicine and doctors are not the miracle workers that I once thought they were. Another reason I joined this citizen group is that I feel passionately about people partnering with their health care providers. Having conversations about health care, medicine, costs, and death are healthy and will change how we do medicine, how we live, and how we live into death. And, we will "save the future" for future generations by reducing health care spending. I live in Saint Paul, enjoy being a wife, mom, grandma, friend, pet owner, and retired school social worker.
After years of busily working, raising kids, volunteering for school and sports activities I have slowly developed a passion to make an impact on a societal level. I have always been concerned about healthcare access for people that can't afford care or have pre-existing conditions that exclude them from insurance coverage. We are facing some hard choices because demographics and the way we deliver healthcare are going to bankrupt our country. As someone who doesn't work in healthcare; I am shocked by the scope and impact of overtreatment. Overtreatment is hurting people physically, mentally, and financially. People need to be an advocate for their care. Question, research, get a second opinion—it could save your health. I live in Eagan, MN with my wife, two boys, and a dog.
I am a general physician and public health professor (now retired) and have been concerned for about 30 years that our excessive health-care spending is stealing resources from other parts of our economy that actually contribute as much or more to our health than does health care (e.g. education, good employment, clean environment). Excessive health-care spending is clearly one of the most important domestic issues before us right now. I have had a long interest in the intersection of health and society and in restoring democracy to our health-care system. I served on the Minnesota Health Care Access Commission in 1989-91 (Minnesota Care was spawned there) and have been a long-time advocate of a unified, publicly-funded health-care system. In my retirement, I continue to stay engaged in Minnesota health policy discussions and various community health initiatives.
As a primary care physician, I care about how we spend our health care dollars because I have seen the suffering caused when some patients don't get the tests and treatments they need even though they live in a country that spends more than almost any other on earth. And because I have witnessed the suffering caused by overtreatment which can contribute little to length or quality of life.
I moved to the Twin Cities 33 years ago to complete my medical training at the University of Minnesota Family Medicine Residency. I have practiced in private medical clinics, a public teaching hospital and clinic, and now in nursing homes, always trying to help patients and families understand the science of medicine so that they can make their best choices. I hate being asked to harm vulnerable elders in the name of "doing everything." Doing tests and prescribing treatments for patients is often simpler than taking care of them and is usually more painful and expensive. I exert my most creative and compassionate professional efforts when I have conversations with very sick patients and their families about the burdens and benefits of invasive treatments. Changing the culture of "More is Better" will hopefully provide a more conducive environment for those discussions.
As a college professor teaching ethics and bioethics, I have stressed the importance of social justice issues in addition to clinical ethics issues. As an ethics consultant to a major health care organization in the Twin Cities, I have not lost sight of the fact that many wait too long to access medical care because of financial concerns. As a leader in a local church, I can testify to the burdens imposed by costly health care benefits for staff that have limited the ministry of my parish. As a patient, I have had to make wrenching decisions to forego popular but unproven medical treatments for which the side effects (the "cure") were more onerous than the condition itself. As a parent, I'm concerned that my children and their children will not have adequate resources to meet their health care needs while, simultaneously being cajoled into thinking that health care will meet all of their needs. For these reasons, I think it's time we critically reflect on our cultural beliefs regarding health care. More isn't necessarily better, and knowing when to say enough is more important than ever.