In one of the last official protests of the Republican National Convention, doctors and patients descended on Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa Thursday afternoon. It was the latest stop by Doctors of America, a health reform advocacy group, in a tour to break through misconceptions about the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Doctors for America’s Patients over Politics tour kicked off in St. Petersburg on Sunday and plans to stop at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC next week. The group started in 2009 and is composed of over 15,000 physicians and medical students aiming to “improve the health of the nation and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high quality health care," according to their website.
Along the way they will hit up schools, churches and health fairs with reform information and free health screenings.
“There hasn’t been a law with more misinformation about it,” said Dr. Scott Poppen, a retired M.D. He and several other health professionals and students stood at quaint white stands in Gaslight Park, intercepting bypassers to talk to them about the ACA.
Poppen said the most frequent piece of misinformation that he hears is the idea that the ACA is a government takeover of the health care system that will get between doctors and patients.
“When I’m in the exam room with a patient there is nothing really between us,” said Poppen, emphasizing that patients would continue to be covered by private insurance. He said that several provisions of the act will benefit previously disenfranchised groups, such as young adults and college students, who can now stay covered by their parents' insurance up to age 26.
Poppen said that the ACA’s support of preventive health care is a win-win situation for patients and the overall health care system. Starting on August 1, the ACA requires insurance companies to cover upfront costs for preventive health visits. Many diseases can be better managed and more cost-effectively treated if caught in their early stages, said Poppen.
“Cervical cancer, for example, if you can pick it up before it becomes an actual cancer, you have saved that woman’s life,” said Poppen. During the tour, Doctors for America will be providing free diabetes and blood pressure screenings.
Thomas Neely, a primary care physician from Boston, noted that a similar health care reform law was passed in 2006 underneath Mitt Romney’s governorship.
“I have seen it work in Massachusetts,” said Neely. “Romneycare is very similar.”
Of the 50 or so people participating in the tour, not all of them are physicians. Kenya Wheeler is a UC-Berkeley student studying for his graduate degree in city and regional planning. His studies were put on hold when one day in 2011 he suffered from three seizures, which led to a diagnosis of CNS lymphoma, a rare type of brain cancer. He is in remission after six months of treatment, but was struggling with thousands of dollars of medical debt after his grad student health insurance capped out.
“I’ve heard stories of people who sold their homes and declared bankruptcy because they could not pay medical bills,” said Wheeler. “Fighting cancer is expensive."
He said he is joining the tour to support the ACA’s elimination of annual and lifetime insurance caps.
“We are a global leader in so many things, we should be a global leader in taking care of our citizens,” said Wheeler
In 90 degree weather, the group began marching away from the park and to a speaker’s platform located within view of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. They wound down Pierce St and Kennedy Blvd., turning onto Washington St. after a line of police on bikes blocked their path down Kennedy. They were followed closely by dozens of police officers during the remainder of their march.
Mona Mangat is a allergist-immunologist with a private practice in St. Petersburg, and the group’s Southern regional director. She says that she already sees some effects of the health reform in patients who are better able to afford their medication.
“If we covered more Americans, more people can get care…we are going to have less costs overall and a better, healthier America.”