Doctors from around North Carolina made their way to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in support of the Affordable Care Act.
By Rose Hoban
Eleanor Greene said there’s a bus she’s been waiting for for a long time – for years, in fact. And finally, she rode that bus to Charlotte.
The bus Greene had been waiting for was a blue recreational vehicle that travelled from the Republican National Convention in Tampa to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte carrying a contingent from the group Doctors for America.
The group, which claims to be non-partisan, left Charlotte to take a detour to Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham on its tour of the two conventions.
“I grew up in a rural area, near Salisbury, and I saw what it was like to be without health care, to see people in need who couldn’t see a doctor because they couldn’t afford it,” said Greene who practices as an obstetrician/ gynecologist in High Point.
Greene’s been involved with the group since 2008, before President Obama was elected. She said she was attracted to their message of reforming the health care system.
“I felt at home when I met these doctors. They thought a lot like me and I was hooked,” Greene said. “We put our patients first.”
That’s the message that the group has been carrying to both political events, and they’re wearing it on dark blue t shirts with large white lettering that says “Patients over Politics.”
“We’ve had Democrats, we’ve had Republicans, we don’t even ask what party our members come from,” said group director Alice Chen, an internist from UCLA hospital who’s been traveling with – and driving – the bus between the two conventions.
The group, which claims about 15,000 members nationwide, supports implementation of Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. When it was pointed out to Chen that the group’s message sounds like a front for the Democratic party, she quickly denied that was the case.
“I recently took care of a patient with colon cancer and he needed surgery and it took us days to get financial clearance to do the surgery,” Chen said. “So, day after day, I went to his bedside to tell him, ‘we’re not taking out your cancer today.'”
“People can say it’s about a party, for me it’s about patients, humanity,” Chen said.
“Is the law perfect? No,” said Cedric Bright, former head of the National Medical Association, a group that represents African American doctors. Bright is now the assistant dean of admissions and special programs at the UNC School of Medicine. “Are there some issues that will impact our physicians differently than it will impact other physicians? Yes.”
Bright publicly welcomed the Doctors for America bus to Lincoln, and talked about the importance of the health reform bill, in particular the emphasis on prevention.
“Overall, we believe more in the issues of our patients than we do for own self interest. so in that aspect we think that the Affordable Care Act is better for patients,” he said.
While standing in front of the bus and speaking to the assembled media, Bright waxed poetic about the organization.
“We believe that we are our brothers’ keeper and as such we know that a strong Durham, and a strong North Carolina and strong nation is only as strong as the weakest and sickest link. that’s why we must take care of the most vulnerable populations,” he told a small knot of reporters and patients who had wandered out of the clinic to hear the doctors speak.
“We have almost 1.5 million people in North Carolina who don’t have insurance,” said state Sen. Eric Mansfield (D-Fayetteville) from the floor of the convention where he’s a delegate. “Most of those are working people who work more than 40 hours per week.”
Mansfield said at the convention, he’d heard a lot of stories from fellow delegates about health care problems, and tussles with insurance companies. And he said he plans to continue in his support of implementation of the ACA because of what it does for hospitals in rural parts of the state.
“You have hospitals in our poorest regions, you just made those hospitals profitable because the majority of those people who come to the ED won’t have insurance,” Mansfield said. “That’s why the hospital associations appreciate that they’ll be able to make ends meet under the law.”
Mansfield had an unsuccessful run to be the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and in running for that position, did not run for re-election to the state Senate.
“I go back to being a surgeon,” Mansfield said. “But I’ll still work within the party. And I’ll continue to fight for these things – Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.”