In uncertain times, conviction is the currency by which we judge the worth of an institution.
To that end, Georgetown should act boldly by publicly endorsing efforts to save and augment former President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
You are likely familiar with the fundamentals of the law. Its most appealing characteristic is an affordable route to health insurance. For tens of millions of patients, this means the difference between sickness and health, and even life and death.
Estimates suggest that increased coverage prevents at least 50,000 deaths every year, while actually slowing the growth of health care expenditure. The law also does away with the barbaric notion of denying insurance for pre-existing conditions and offers profound advantages for women’s health care. And you might be particularly interested in the feature that lets you stay on your parent’s insurance plan until age 26, saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
To a greater or lesser extent, this is common knowledge. But the perspective held by a growing number of medical students is somewhat foreign to most people outside the profession, and even to some people within. To understand it, you have to know how the United States approached medicine up until just a few years ago.
Most developed countries have a national health care system. For them, medicine is something of a social creed. But in the United States, health care is an individual aspiration. There is no overarching societal desire to ensure everyone has access.
That mentality also defines the practice of medicine. We focus on the patient in front of us and lose track of the larger world beyond the office or hospital walls. If a patient does not have insurance, that is just the way it is, and we move on.
However, because of the Affordable Care Act, we are the first generation of medical students “raised” with a different mentality. Our classes reverberate with a new conceptual framework that is to drive our era of medicine: the idea that health care, rather a distant dream for many, might actually be there for everyone. It suggests, finally, a national alignment with the philosophy of endless compassion intrinsic to medicine.
That is why we rose to the Affordable Care Act’s defense so quickly. Within weeks of President Donald Trump’s election, a student-led movement called #ProtectOurPatients claimed nearly 5,000 members and supporters across 100 medical schools, including Georgetown. We delivered petitions to Congress, laid siege to congressional phone lines and staged graphic die-ins to support our patients.
So why do we ask Georgetown to support the Affordable Care Act? Because something as simple as a public statement, seemingly mere words on paper, gathers energies that cannot otherwise be harnessed.
We saw this just days ago when the administration finally came out against the executive order on immigration, explicitly calling for a unified front against that abomination. It is always eye-catching when a major institution breaks from seasoned neutrality to explicitly defend its values.
Of course, you might think “Obamacare” is a less clear-cut ideological battle. To some extent, this is true. There is ample room to debate its flaws and how they should be mended. But the cold, indifferent idea of repeal or crafting an anemic replacement is just as incompatible with the university’s principles. There is a reason this law fit so neatly into our classes. In every corner of Georgetown’s philosophical foundation is a call to serve and elevate the neediest among us. Thirty million people suddenly robbed of their health care does not exactly align with that mission.
Moreover, there is no requirement to support the Affordable Care Act in its current incarnation. But there is an indisputable moral obligation for an institution like ours to oppose grievous violations of decency. The outrage you feel when Trump slanders Mexicans as criminals and rapists, or when Muslims are the subject of ruthless discrimination — that is how we have felt for years as the Affordable Care Act’s opponents spread lies about death panels and mythical economic destruction, lies that may literally cost tens of thousands of people their lives.
The university can stay neutral when rational debate flourishes on all sides. But until then, “Obamacare” deserves a strong defense. Georgetown should denounce repeal efforts and stand by patients with the same compassion the school instilled in us.
JONATHAN WEIL is a student at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.
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