August 1998 Bulletin

Orthopaedists eye Congress to shape health care laws

William Price, MD, center, confers
with staff in election headquarters

Three orthopaedic surgeons are working hard to become part of the process that can influence changes in the health care delivery environment.

William Price, MD, closed his Belleville, Ill. office last September so he could dedicate all his time and energy to running for the 12th Congressional District seat, held by his father Melvin Price until the elder Price died in 1988.

Gil Aust, MD, a candidate in the 5th Congressional District in Alabama, said he is planning to continue to work two days a week in his Huntsville practice throughout the summer before further cutting or suspending his practice hours so he can concentrate on campaigning.

Dr Price and Dr. Aust are two of four orthopaedic surgeons who chose to enter the political fray this year. Jeffrey C. Thomas, MD, is campaigning for the Sept. 8 Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District of Wisconsin. Stephen L. Henry, MD, the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, lost his Democratic primary battle in May for one of Kentucky's seats in the U.S. Senate.

It should come as no surprise that health care issues figure prominently in their various campaign platforms. "We hear of, in general, a lot of patients who are dissatisfied with employer provided health plans," said Dr. Price. "They feel like they are trapped in plans that don't meet their needs or their family's needs."

Dr. Price said he is in favor of giving individuals tax breaks that would allow them to choose their own medical plan, a move also favored by Dr. Aust.

"One of the first bills I hope to propose will allow individuals to deduct all out-of -pocket medical expenses as corporations do now," Dr. Aust said. "We need to reestablish doctor/patient relationships as the way health care is delivered and the only way we are going to do that is to encourage individuals to own their own health insurance. Deductions will encourage companies to get out of the health care business, raise the pay to employees and let them purchase their own health care."

Dr. Henry, an advocate of patient protection legislation, said it is imperative that physicians take a leadership role in the health care debate. He said he was amazed by the number of Kentucky physicians who steered clear of the political process.

"It went beyond not wanting to make contributions," Dr. Henry said. "Some truly felt they were beyond government's scope of influence. When are physicians going to wake up and understand that they live in a society where they will be governed? They can chose to put blindfolds on and go to the office, or they can chose to participate and be an influence."

Dr. Henry's own decision to join in the political process was made early in his life, thanks in part to his teenage friendship with the son of Kentucky Senator Wendell Ford. Ford is retiring this year and it is his seat that Henry was hoping to win. Politics runs in Dr. Price's family. His father was a U.S. Congressman for 44 years.

Dr. Thomas has a long history in local politics. He was a member of the Janesville School Board from 1977 to 1989 and a member of the Janesville City Council from 1992 to 1996. He was a candidate for Wisconsin State Senate in 1987, Wisconsin State Assembly in 1990 and U.S. Congress in 1993 and 1996.

"People have asked why a successful physician would want to run for Congress, Dr. Thomas said. " I'm trying to take care of people who are less fortunate. I treat homeless people at a shelter in Janesville. I treat people without insurance at a clinic in Janesville. I'm working to try and improve health care for the 50 to 60 million people in this country who don't have it."

Dr. Aust decided to enter politics following the murder of his father in May 1996 in the town he grew up in. "When I went back for my father's funeral, I found 30 to 35 percent of the people on welfare," Dr. Aust said. "Families were breaking down, kids were trading drugs and killing each other. I realized that is what I need to be addressing."

Going into the November general election, seven physicians hold seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and one physician has a seat in the U.S. Senate.

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