Sunday, August 06, 2017

Why Would One Of America's Top Cancer Researchers Run For Congress? Meet Jason Westin Of Houston


The DCCC hasn't seriously contested the Houston area congressional district since 1966 when George H.W. Bush beat ultra-conservative Harris County District Attorney Frank Briscoe (D) to become the first-ever Republican to represent Houston. Back in those days, TX-07 included all of Harris County; now it's just 17% of the county and is basically known as the west Houston district. It stretches from Memorial Park and West University Place, through Bellaire, north to Hedwig and Spring Valley Village, west to Barker Reservoir and then north to Jersey Village. The PVI is R+13 and Obama got wiped out by both McCain and Romney there, with around 40% of the vote. John Culberson has been congressman since far right ideologue Bill Archer retired in 2000 and he's never faced a serious challenge. Until 2016 only one Democrat had ever hit 40%. In 2016 an oil industry Democrat, James Cargas, ran and Culberson beat him by around 30,000 votes, 56.2% to 43.8%. Hillary managed to win the district or, more accurately, Trump managed to lose it. The district is around 31.5% Hispanic, 12.5% black and 10% Asian-- so a white minority district now. Trump's share of the vote was 47.1% (from Romney's 59.9%) and Hillary took 48.5%. The DCCC seems to feel this is reason enough to think they're going to flip TX-07 from red to blue and there are 7 candidates so far, included two DCCC-types, lawyers from other districts, one, Alex Traintaphyllis, a former Goldman Sachs guy. Cargas is running again as well. There are two viable progressives in the race, a cancer research doctor, Jason Westin, and author Laura Moser. We like them both.

Goal ThermometerOver the past 4 months DWT have gotten to know Dr. Westin for his frequent commentaries on all matters regarding healthcare. Today, as we add him to our list of endorsed candidates-- click on the ActBlue thermometer on the right to see the whole list and, if you'd like, to contribute to Dr. Westin's campaign-- we asked him to write another guest post to help us get an unambiguous idea about what kind of a congressmember he will make if he wins the primary and goes on to defeat Culberson in 2018. His enthusiastic and well-reasoned support for Medicare-For-All differentiates him not just from John Culberson but from the other primary candidates running in his district. After Dr. David Gill (IL-13), Jason Westin is the second politically progressive physician Blue America is backing in 2018.

Healthcare Is A Human Right
-by Dr. Jason Westin,
Candidate for Congress, TX-07

“Doctor, thank you. This means the world to me” she said as I left her exam room. In my first year of medical school, I learned countless lessons ranging from how the human body works and breaks down to how to deal with enormous stress. But the most important lesson wasn’t taught in a classroom or a textbook: I learned that healthcare is a human right. Working in the student run Equal Access clinic, a place where I provided care for people with real medical problems but without insurance, was one of the most formative experiences of my career. The people I treated knew they had problems, but because they lacked insurance they were getting sicker and felt no one cared. When I helped them, their gratitude was about more than getting their blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes under control, it was about feeling valued as a human being. Nearly 20 years later, I can still remember the look on their faces.

In my career as a doctor, I’ve seen many incredible things across the full spectrum of the human experience. I vividly remember my first patient that recovered after a critical illness, and sadly my first patient that did not. As an award winning researcher at the top-rated cancer center in the world, I remember my first patient whose cancer went into remission on a clinical trial I designed, wrote, and lead, and others who were less fortunate. Those experiences motivate me to fight for my patients, to find new treatments and new cures, and to refuse to be satisfied with the status quo. The doctor-patient relationship is truly unique: patients share with their doctors things they would not tell anyone else, and in exchange doctors make decisions that determine the fate of their patients’ lives. It is an awesome responsibility.

Unfortunately, my ability to provide the best care for my patients is frequently not up to me. Too often my plans are blocked by a for-profit insurance company denying to pay for my patient’s treatment plan. Most medical practices have a large team dedicated solely to navigating the complex insurance claims approval process, often with seemingly random results. This makes healthcare less efficient and effective. The amount of time, effort, and money wasted dealing with paperwork or appealing denials of universally accepted standard care is truly astounding. How much money is wasted? The Center for Economic and Policy Research calculated that the American healthcare system spends over $100 Billion each year on private insurance overhead costs, 12 times more than Medicare spends on operating costs. This spending is completely wasted money that does nothing to make people healthier. If another industry found that it had a $100 Billion dollar per year inefficiency, it would be corrected faster than Mr. Trump could tweet about it being SAD! But for profit insurance companies have no motivation to correct this waste of their consumers’ money – it reinforces their stated need for high costs. The bottom line is this: insurance companies are motivated to maximize profits and bonuses for their executives, not to improve our health.

The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, has been a step forward, but still leaves nearly 30 million Americans without coverage. Due to a refusal to expand Medicaid, the uninsured rate in Texas is 16%, the worst in the nation for three years in a row. Career Congressman John Culberson (R, TX-07) voted dozens of times to “repeal and replace” the ACA, and “absolutely” supported and voted for the TrumpCare bill. Sadly, despite seven years of sloganeering, Culberson has no serious solutions to our healthcare system. The ACA is not a perfect solution, but it did slow the rapid growth of healthcare costs. However, it has not impacted medication prices, use of treatments or testing are not of significant value, or lifestyle choices many of us make that lead to poor health. As a doctor, I know that we can do better.

I believe that healthcare is a human right and the best way to fulfill this duty is a “Medicare for all” single-payer system. Medicare and Medicaid cover nearly 125 million Americans, 33% of our population, but more can be done. The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but is the only developed country without universal healthcare. Critics will ask “how can we afford a single-payer system?”. I ask, “How can we afford not to change our current approach?”. We spend more than any other country in the world per person on healthcare, over $9000 each year and rising, but rank 28th in healthcare outcomes according to the United Nations. Despite spending this fortune, we rank behind Andorra, Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus, Brunei, and Solvenia. Why do we pay more for less? The price of prescription drugs, inefficiencies in insurance, and a lack of prevention and cure of chronic illnesses are all a part, and they are only getting worse. The United States healthcare system today reminds me of my patients from the Equal Access clinic: we know that our problems are getting worse, but we feel powerless to act. It is obvious that our current system of rising costs and mediocre outcomes is not sustainable, and the only viable way to improve our health and control our costs for the long term is universal healthcare.

It is now time for a change, for a serious discussion about facts instead of talking points. The American people are ready for this discussion. The Pew Research Center reported 60% of Americans believe the federal government is responsible for providing healthcare coverage to all Americans. This is an astounding number. Moving to a “Medicare for all” system could do more than just insure all Americans, it could tackle the unsustainable rising costs of prescription medications and healthcare, and even more importantly, make us healthier and more secure. Greater access to care and a real focus on prevention of and finding cures for dreaded diseases, would reduce long term costs and increase American productivity and longevity. We should increase funding for research from public sources and have less reliance on for profit organizations. We have a true opportunity to build upon the legacy of the Medicare and Medicaid platform, and we must seize this moment. America does great things, like leaving our world and setting foot on our moon, why can’t we do great things for something as fundamental as our healthcare?

If your doctor continued to use the same failing treatments over and over, you would find another doctor. Our leaders in Washington are elected by the people to lead, and if they refuse lead on healthcare, we should elect leaders who will. I’m running for Congress because I know that healthcare is a human right and that’s worth fighting for.

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