“7 million is a lot of people. For those of you who don't see patients, you should know that every day I am seeing new patients who have not had coverage for a long time. Today alone I saw three new families who had been uncovered for three years. And there is a small business benefit. I am hiring two docs.” – Dr. Zee Beams, pediatrician, mother of four, DFA deputy field director 2009-2010
I still remember him. Grizzled face, red cracked lips, shaky hands, propped up in bed so he could breathe a little more easily, scrolling through his Blackberry to check in with his clients even as – unbeknownst to all of us – he was in the final days of his life.
David was my patient seven years ago. He lost his health insurance, and he didn’t know where to turn when his Crohn’s disease went bad. By the time he got to the hospital, he had kwashiorkor – he was starving to death and had heart failure, kidney failure, anemia. We tried so hard to save him, but we failed. He died in Los Angeles – just minutes away from the opulence of Beverly Hills where Bentleys and Ferraris are standard.
That day, I decided I had to tell his story. I didn’t know how or where to tell it – but I knew his story wasn’t unique. I knew that I couldn’t quietly practice medicine in a system where tens of thousands of people like David die every year.
In the 5 years I’ve been a part of the Doctors for America movement, I have now told David’s story to millions of people because he is no longer here to tell it. I have told his story because I knew that we could change the future for people like him – that we had to change the future.
Today, thanks to people like you, David’s story is being replaced with the stories of families who have coverage for the first time in years. More than 7 million people signed up for health insurance through the marketplaces. When you add in Medicaid expansion, young adults on their parents’ plans, and those who signed up directly through insurance companies, that number could be as high as 20 million.
The world has changed for the better for millions of people because doctors and medical students and concerned citizens stepped beyond the halls of our hospitals and clinics, sacrificed family time on nights and weekends, took a risk and told your stories, chose to believe that together we could make things better.
In 2009, when people said doctors were too busy and too risk-adverse to get involved, we spoke by the thousands from every corner of the country. In 2010, when the health reform bill looked doomed in Congress, we marched on Washington. In 2012, when political fighting threatened to sink the fledgling law, we organized a bus tour through the South to talk to real people in real communities. In 2013, when a flawed rollout of enrollment had many people speaking of disaster, we thought about our patients who needed coverage and kept moving forward.
Whether you put your name on a petition, held up a sign at a rally, shared your patient stories in the local paper, contributed funds, recruited colleagues to the cause, or stepped up as a leader – you have been a part of building a movement and changing the future of health care for the nation.
There is much work to do in the months and years to come. We have learned so much along the way – from our successes and failures, triumphs and missteps. I know that we can build and expand our efforts to achieve even more together – to raise that bar to 100% coverage, to coordinate our care and focus the health care system squarely on patients, to lead our communities to preserving health in the first place.
But today, in this moment, I hope you will join me in celebrating the progress we've made together in the pursuit of better health and better care for all our patients.
With gratitude and solidarity,
Alice, on behalf of your Doctors for America family
P.S. Here are just some of the highlights from the Coverage is Good Medicine and the impact we have had across the country.