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Dr. Cliff Woodford is a family physician with over two decades of experience practicing in the public and private sectors. He teaches in Lakeland College's healthcare management degree program, and is married to Adina Schwartz, associate professor of economics at Lakeland.
Dr. Cliff Woodford ranks healthcare as a basic human need - right up there with food, clothing and shelter.
"Whatever comes out of this debate, we need something that gets insurance in the hands of the 48 million people not insured," Woodford said. "Some basic level of healthcare is something everybody should have access to here in the 21st century.
"We're the richest country in the world - we can afford this. Not everybody likes hearing that, because it means somebody has to pay for it. The fact is, we can afford it, and we should be providing it."
Woodford isn't pitching any one particular system that would fill the gap, but he's well aware of the issues standing in the way of meeting such a goal. One is the lack of primary care doctors and nurses entering the field. "The lack of access to primary care is absolutely breaking the bank," Woodford said. "People go to the emergency room for minor illnesses because it's their only source of care."
The current healthcare model needs to be changed. Primary care physicians should be rewarded for improved health outcomes at levels similar to specialists' rewards.
"In specialties, you can be comfortable quickly out of training, get your medical school bills paid and live nicely and not have to kill yourself," Woodford said. "Primary care doctors work like dogs and make a quarter what radiologists make, and I'd argue what they do, in a big-picture scenario, is more important."
Additional training opportunities, more residencies and reducing productivity pressure by putting more people in the primary care field are all possible solutions, Woodford said.
Woodford noted the Patient-Centered Medical Home model, which builds a long-term relationship between physicians and patients and emphasizes ongoing primary and preventative care in an effort to cut down on chronic medical problems, as another possible solution.
But these are issues the medical profession can and should tackle on its own, Woodford said, without government intervention.
"It comes back to us getting a better recognition of the problem," Woodford said. "Unfortunately, organized medicine is dominated by the specialist. If medical students could get a good primary care experience during their third and fourth years, then the primary care professions would be more interesting to them."
The American Medical Association this past summer formally endorsed the House version of the healthcare bill, which Woodford said surprised him, since doctors are traditionally opposed to government intervention in healthcare.
"If you took a bunch of physicians in practice for 30 or 40 years, they'll tell you the golden age ended in the early- or mid-1980s,"
Woodford said. "If a doctor said a patient needed something, it got paid for. Since then there's been more scrutiny, which, frankly, I think is a good thing."
While some argue that tort reform could control the huge awards given in malpractice cases and thus hold down medical spending due to the practice of defensive medicine, Woodford said, "Malpractice suits and expenses constitute less than 1 percent of our healthcare expenditures. It doesn't seem reasonable to me to hold 48 million people hostage over this relatively small component of the system.