EDITORIAL: Make medicine a campaign issue

Whidbey Island is facing a medical crisis over the long term if something isn’t done about inadequate funding for local doctors. It’s a federal problem that will require a federal solution, so it should be an important campaign issue this year.

Doctors in Island County and other rural areas of the state are being hit hard by cutbacks in the two huge federal programs that provide medical care for the needy. Medicare helps senior citizens, while Medicaid helps lower income people. Those two populations make up a large percentage of rural medical practices, and doctors are losing money on them.

Our government functions in a fantasy world where it controls medical expenditures, regardless of costs. To save money, the government is cutting back in Medicare and Medicaid funding. If doctors could do the same, there would be no problem. Just cut back what they pay their employees, the drug companies, testing labs, etc., etc. Unfortunately, doctors function in the real world where costs keep going up.

With federal reimbursements declining, some doctors in Island County are having trouble meeting their expenses. Just as bad, the situation here is scaring away doctors who would otherwise want to set up a practice. Our natural setting and close proximity to the mainland should be a big attraction to young doctors, but instead they’re going elsewhere due to problems caused by the funding crisis.

Already, Oak Harbor is at least two doctors short of the total needed to adequately serve the public. Meanwhile, other doctors are leaving or thinking of leaving. Clinics in other states are offering deals that are almost too good to turn down. And with fewer doctors here, the workload on those who stay increases and another reason to leave the island emerges.

This is one of the most serious problems facing Island County. If we can’t provide good medical care, who is going to want to move here?

Fortunately, Congress is up for grabs this year. In the Second Congressional District, three solid Republican candidates are seeking the nomination to run against the Democrat incumbent.

Candidates will want to talk about easy subjects: what to do about terrorism, how to build up the military, how to keep a lid on taxes, etc. Compared to the medical crisis, those are easy topics to address from the podium. But in the long term, the medical crisis may be the most important issue of all.

Make the candidates address this tough question in depth. Then decide for whom you will cast your vote in November.

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