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Taison Bell, M.D.: Stop Playing Politics With People’s Lives

When people ask me what kind of physician I am, I simply say, “I’m the kind you hope to never have to meet.” I’m an intensivist, which means I deliver care in a specialized unit to patients who are on the brink of death or have severe injuries. My patients are incredibly diverse, ranging from children to the elderly, healthy to chronically ill, homeless to wealthy, and any other ways you can characterize and categorize people. What links all of these unique individuals is that none of them plan or expect to need my care. Those who survive their illnesses face lives that are often markedly different than before.

I’ve been following the health care debate closely, checking the news in free moments to see the latest comments from legislators, policy experts, and health care organizations. But I do not dwell on headlines because, in the scheme of our complex health care system, my role is relatively simple: If you or your loved one has a life-threatening illness, it’s my job to either try to stop it or to ease suffering if death is inevitable. Discussions about copays, deductibles, and exchanges go out the window when I enter the picture. The immediacy of the moment, when life hangs in the balance, rapidly brings priorities into sharp focus.

But I’ve also seen how the financial aftermath of critical illness shatters any notion that our country’s governance is grounded in a social contract meant to truly take care of patients. How can we say that we’re a caring nation when we tolerate families going into bankruptcy because of medical bills? How can we call ourselves generous when some patients openly wonder if it would have been better to die than to become a financial burden on their family? As a wave of opiate overdoses ravages our nation, why are we wasting time debating the merits of mandated coverage for mental illness and addiction?

The American Health Care Act, or AHCA, is a deplorable piece of legislation. It’s an abomination to human decency. And I have to be blunt about it because there is no nuance to its consequences for my patients. Increasing the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million, under provisions of the bill, means that more people will suffer from devastating strokes, heart attacks, complications from cancer, and other illnesses that could have been prevented or treated earlier with insurance and access to regular health screenings. Unlinking health care subsidies from income level misaligns resources. Cutting Medicaid pulls an already tenuous safety net out from under lower-income Americans.

Rather than protecting the vulnerable, the ACHA attempts to tear away the moral fabric of our society to expose where its supporters’ true loyalties lie: with protecting the wealthy and fortunate at the cost of human lives deemed not worthy of their concern. Nobody in good conscience should be able to support a bill that willingly lets an increased number of people die from preventable causes.
Yet the bill’s existence is not what frustrates me the most, as one can expect bad ideas to emerge from an ineffective and unpopular Congress. Rather, what truly unnerves me is the embarrassing lack of courage on both sides of the aisle to come together and design a health care fix that reflects the attitude and achievements of our prosperous nation. Somehow, it seems that discussing a simple concept such as guaranteeing a basic level of health insurance for everyone—especially the poor, mentally ill and chronically ill—is anathema to being American.

While our lawmakers debate the difference between “access” and “coverage,” they continue to act as if it is reasonable to think that individuals can make well-informed decisions about how to manage their own health risks. As a physician married to a woman with a public health degree, even I cannot comprehensively compare the health plans available to me. I have no idea how to accurately assess my risk of developing a new chronic or catastrophic illness. I don’t know the right amount to contribute to a health savings account. Lucky for me, I at least have options and the income to make a choice. But how does a struggling, seemingly healthy person with competing financial interests objectively gauge the benefits of enrolling in a health plan, especially if that person will be charged extra for re-entering the market? That is not a true choice; it is a burden that should not fall on the individual.

Fixing the coverage gap and the host of other issues plaguing our health care system will not be easy. Whether it’s publicly funded or a partnership between employers and the private market is secondary to the fact that it desperately needs to happen.

We need less partisan politics around protecting the health and wellness of our people. Rather, we need a health care system that reflects the generosity and compassion that we strive for in this country. We need patients like my own to focus their energy on getting better rather than worrying about how much it will cost. We need the families that I counsel and console to know that their only worry should be directed toward their loved one. We need immigrant and unauthorized families to know that our drive to deliver care with compassion will not be compromised.

And for the patients who I do say a final goodbye to, they should be allowed to pass in peace, knowing that their country refused to play politics with their lives and guarded their right to affordable and effective health care.


First published by Center for American Progress.

Taison Bell is a critical care medicine physician in the Washington, D.C., area and a current member of the Leadership Institute at the Center for American Progress.


Dr. Taison Bell


A University of Maryland Medical Center infection control specialist inspects the catheter on a shock trauma center patient on November 17, 2010, in Baltimore (AP/Rob Carr)

12 comments on “Taison Bell, M.D.: Stop Playing Politics With People’s Lives

  1. Matt
    November 2, 2020

    DR. Bell says he knew in early January. Why did he keep it a Secret? How many lives were lost because he waited for the democratic party to use him for politics.


  2. Jeff Lee
    November 2, 2020

    Your political commercial is a disgrace to the medical field. Face it — your support of Joe Biden has less to do about how he would handle the virus and more to do with the socialist leanings of the Democrat party that will usher in socialized medicine.


  3. Tim Mills
    November 2, 2020

    for a doctor to put out a political add like this is ridiculous,totally one sided especially from a democratic doctor. If you could have helped why didn’t you contact the Whitehouse instead ,or did you get paid for the add?


    • Tim Mills
      November 2, 2020

      plus 6 months ago you did not say a word about the whitehouse doing anything wrong,you were on spotlight over the city May 3rd 2020,but now you say different.You may be a great doctor I have no reason to doubt that just your politcal side took over ,to bad.


    October 25, 2020

    Another well said statement! I agree fully! Well said Mr. Osborne

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gary Oden
    October 19, 2020

    Any person with the willingness to find the truth can find it. It is becoming more difficult to separate fact from fiction or truth from lies, however, it can still be done with some effort. We all owe the men and women who died for our freedom the effort it takes to find the truth and then make decisions based on facts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marley Crisorio
    October 18, 2020

    If there was any sincerity in Dr Bells messaging, he would be lining up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to offer his solutions to the current administration. His political ploy is shameful.


  7. Paul S. Rehbein
    October 13, 2020

    The Doctor himself is playing Politics with the lives of all Americans with the self serving commercial he allowed the Socialist Liberals to produce with him as the Star.

    This idea that Joe Biden “HAS A PLAN” that will come anywhere near being the “silver bullet” concerning COVID 19 is absurd. As a Doctor, he has to know that!
    The “PLAN” that Biden and Harris have spoke of is nothing more than what has been happening since this virus struck our citizens. And if he actually believes ANY PRESIDENT, Republican or Democrat, could have done ANYTHING to dramatically slow down, or even STOP the spread of this virus, he is a FOOL!

    He apparently forgot that everything Trump did in the very beginning of this epidemic, Biden, Harris, and the Democrats demonized Trump FOR DOING. Even the Medial Experts can not agree on the BEST WAY TO FIGHT THE VIRUS.

    How many times in the past months have they changed their minds about wearing masks alone?

    These people are fools leading fools, and this Doctor is looking to advance his own persona at the cost of prostituting himself to the Democratic Party.

    Had he ANY SHAME, he would demand they withdraw the Commercial, and if they will not, he should publicly denounce it and apologize to the American people. I said IF he had any shame.


  8. Glenn Osborne
    October 12, 2020

    I do not like the political ad that you are in every day. You state the Trump administration has not handled this pandemic very well. Really? How many have you been through? I believe the only one to compare to happened 100 years ago! And the Obama Administration BLEW his “pandemic”, the Swine Flu! Quit promoting the Dems ridiculous claims as “Joe” could NOT have done as good a job as Trump—he is a Buffoon!!!


  9. loranneke
    October 8, 2020

    Bless that man


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