Will Nicholson, M.D., is a family doctor who practices at St. John's Hospital in Maplewood. He is also the director of the Preparation for Residency Program at the University of Minnesota's Department of Family Medicine.
If America is going to build a better health care system, the Supreme Court's decision that the government does have the authority to mandate every citizen to buy health insurance is only the beginning of a very important debate.
If we want to stop paying nearly twice what other nations pay for health care, we are going to have to decide that individual responsibility means more than sending a check to the insurance company once a month. Everyone who benefits from America's health care system needs to help account for its costs.
I'm not just talking about the individual responsibility of patients. It's true that the focus of today's headlines is the mandate that Americans buy health insurance. And it's true that physicians like me urge our patients to be personally responsible for their own health. As a family doctor, I think we need to raise our expectations on everyone in the health care equation — not just patients. Pinning all the responsibility for health care's woes on patients is a dead end, no matter how many of them are mandated to buy health insurance. Most of my patients are doing the best they can, and many are just barely getting by. The individual mandate is an opportunity to challenge everyone else in the health care equation to be more accountable for health care costs.
It's time to also expect more individual responsibility from those of us who are receiving those mandated health care dollars:
The individuals who run health insurance companies should have the responsibility to not waste money on non-health-care expenditures.
Individual doctors like me should have the responsibility to practice not just the best, but also the most cost-effective, medicine that we can.
Individual trial lawyers should have the responsibility not to file frivolous medical lawsuits in hopes of getting rich.
Individual politicians should have the responsibility to advocate for health care reform based on merit, not on political convenience.
Even the individuals who produce our food should be responsible for the food's quality, not just how much of it they can sell.
And individuals who run drug companies and medical device firms should have the responsibility to develop the technology that is most needed, not just most profitable.
If those of us in health care held ourselves more accountable for keeping down costs, those mandated health care dollars would go a lot further to help the people who spent them.
As a family doctor I know there is no easy fix for our health care system. The Supreme Court's decision will neither make nor break our nation's efforts at health care reform, but I'm happy to see that we are starting to seriously discuss the need for all of us to take responsibility for the health of America.