This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
org Ogan Gurel, MD Please tell us a little bit about yourself and why you have decided to devote a month of your life to this. Well, I’m trained as a doctor (got my MD from Columbia in New York City) and completed surgical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Since then I’ve worked in a wide variety of roles including scientific research and international medical relief work. I’ve been a CEO of a small, publicly-traded medical device company. I’ve been a healthcare consultant to pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, healthcare insurance companies and health systems. I’ve done a fair bit of work in the media including writing about healthcare issues, a columnist for various internet newsletters and a host for several internet TV shows. I’ve also been a patient — both insured and uninsured. So, in short, I’ve been, as they say, “around the block” seeing all possible sides of healthcare. The goal in doing this walk, which you’ve noted will take a month, is to emphasize the collective effort we need to move forward real change—change for everybody. This is about healthcare for all. We have many problems at hand: a financial crisis, rising unemployment, collapsing industries. Beyond the human rights issues involved, healthcare reform is a necessary component to fixing these very significant economic and societal problems. Without healthcare reform, these problems will remain problems. What I mean to say is that healthcare for all is essential for maintaining our economic strength through healthy workers, facilitating labor mobility and innovation by untying healthcare insurance from employment status, reducing cost by eliminating wasteful administrative overhead that results from essentially monopolistic, for-profit private insurance. Progress in American is not possible without a solution to the healthcare problem. Lastly, the Walk For Healthcare is especially important because it is not just a symbol but at each of the many towns and cities we stop by, we will be hearing, sharing, and documenting the healthcare stories of real people. What is clearly happening now is that healthcare industry lobbyists and special interest groups are pushing the debate. Of course, nearly all legislators have good intentions at heart, but the pressure by certain selfinterested, and, yes, selfish, groups is relentless, focused (by definition), powerful. The voice of the people, the people that really matter, has been largely silent. Of course, most polls indicate that the majority of Americans want some form of universal healthcare and certainly the supermajority want change. But in the face of powerful interests, polls can essentially be ignored and swept away by enough money and influence. Polls are powerful but in the end they are faceless statistics. The Walk For Healthcare aims to bring a face, and real stories, to the forefront of this debate: where it belongs. Why a walk for healthcare? Basically, healthcare reform is the most important legislative initiative of our generation. Perhaps the greatest challenge since the civil rights era. As Abraham Lincoln once said, in a time that was full of great challenge and social division, “we must think anew and act anew.” Those who will make the final decisions on all this must realize that our lack of healthcare causes great individual hardship and suffering (which this Walk
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aims to explore). Most of these leaders do not, and perhaps never have, dealt with a lack of health insurance, a lack of healthcare, and the life and death issues it raises. Of course, they talk to their constituents and are sympathetic. But sympathy is different from empathy, real feeling and it is a deeper feeling and understanding that leads to the right decisions. Lack of healthcare also makes our nation fall short of the greatness it represents and deserves. America is a great and unique country. But when a significant number of its citizens literally die for lack of basic healthcare, this is not great. Robert Kennedy once said something to the effect of “sometimes the sharpest criticism comes from the most patriotric.” There is so much great healthcare and medicine in America. World-class and in many cases world-leading. So, it makes all this inequity even more troubling and unacceptable. Having seen all angles of our healthcare system I can say that I have a certain experience that substantiates my criticism. Though obviously I am not alone in this. And this criticism is all about making America an even better place for its citizens. Here are the specifics. Lack of healthcare makes America less great, less powerful from an economic perspective. We become less competitive (witness GM being crushed by its healthcare costs). Our labor market is less flexible (because healthcare is tied to jobs). People fall short of their potential because either they are not healthy or they choose jobs largely because of the imperative of keeping some healthcare insurance. And, of course, we are greater as a nation when basic human rights are upheld. This last point even has implications for our standing in the international community, our foreign policy, as we must certainly uphold the American values which we often seek to represent to the wider world. What would health care for all look like? First of all, the Walk For Healthcare is not about any particular policies or to promote specific legislation. This is not a political walk. It is about bringing to a wider consciousness the voice of the people. In fact, healthcare, at its core, is not, and should not be, a political football. Now, everyone in America expects a common commitment to national defense, public highways, and public education. Mind you, with each of these, the public investment in defense, highways, and education doesn’t mean that war will never happen or that soldiers will never die. Or, for that matter, that there’ll never be any traffic jams or every child eventually gets a graduate degree. But with all of these—public highways, public education—it is completely understood that there are certain basic opportunities and benefits available for everyone. The same should be, must be, with healthcare. And note that just as public education doesn’t make us a communist country, none of these guarantees—guarantees of certain basic benefits—compromises our system of capitalism, free competition and innovation. In fact, it helps this. How many miles is the entire walk and how many miles will you walk a day? About 700 miles. It’ll be about twenty miles in Illinois, approximately 190 in Indiana, 230 in Ohio, six in West Virginia, 190 or so in Pennsylvania and about 75 in Maryland. We’ll be walking 25 miles a day with a plan for 10 miles a day split into two five hour blocks. Of course, there’ll be flexibility around this as we accommodate plans to meet people, join rallies, meet the media and so forth. But that’s the basic plan. 700 miles in one month.
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Why are you choosing to walk? There are several reasons for a walk. First, while not common (remember “one must think anew and act anew”), there is precedent. In August of 2001, Pat Quinn (now Governor of Illinois) and his physician Dr. Quentin Young hiked 167 miles around Illinois to promote healthcare for everyone. So, we have previous inspiration to build upon. Our walk will be a little different because now we can leverage social media technology (Facebook and Twitter, in particular) to magnify and document the message. Now with walking in particular, you maximize the opportunity to meet people. This is less possible with driving and certainly impossible (except for your seatmate, perhaps) when flying. Obviously walking is one of the best things to promote a healthy lifestyle. Healthcare is not just about receiving medical benefits but is really a whole package of lifestyle, prevention, and of course medical care. It’s important to note that the Walk will be along the Lincoln Highway (with the exception of the last segment in Maryland). The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental highway which was initially developed as a patchwork of private roads but, is now, of course, federalized. In fact, as you may know, the Eisenhower Interstate system was largely initiated during the height of the Cold War when anything even remotely smelling of socialism or communism would be frowned upon (or even worse thrown in jail). Nobody thought that the public interstate system was communist. In fact, it was key to winning the Cold War. An efficient, fully available public highway system made us a stronger nation. So, it’s a public good and the American people long ago decided that there should be good transportation for all. That must be the case with healthcare. Let me say one more thing. Just like the interstate has made us freer. What is more American, what is more emblematic of freedom than the Great American Roadtrip? Healthcare for All will make us freer—as a nation and as individuals. Do you think anyone will notice given our national obsession with cars, driving and tollways and speed? Good question. The world moves very quickly. Even though healthcare reform is essential and must happen now, we actually need to stop, slow down and listen to people. This Walk will hopefully help to bring the eye on the real ball. The concerns and fate of regular people. As an M.D., what advice to you expect to give the people you meet along the way who are struggling with physical pain, lack of insurance coverage and limited access to medical professionals? Quite frankly, as an MD, there’s not much I can do. It is very frustrating. It’s actually one reason I left clinical medicine. Its great to take care of individual patients; there is, in a way, nothing more special than that but I wanted to do things on the business and investment side and contribute to wider change. But to answer your question as best I can, the advice would be to encourage a healthy lifestyle and get involved now in pushing for healthcare reform. Speak up and let your voice be heard. Help each other in small ways because that is what you are doing when healthcare finally becomes appreciated and understood as a public good.
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How do you think you will feel in late July when you arrive on the Mall in Washington, D.C.? Tired. But, how I feel will depend largely on how much momentum the healthcare reform movement takes. This Walk is obviously only a small part of a monumental effort. But if we are moving in the right direction, I will be happy and feel that we (namely everyone we have met with) will have contributed to that progress. What are you hoping to accomplish through this endeavor? I hope to bring the voice of the people to a wider national consciousness. As mentioned before, it’ll be a voice which cannot, and will not, be ignored. All this will documented via multiple media: the news media, of course, social media (we have Facebook page for example), Twitter. We have a professional documentary photographer (Jonathan Hubschman) with us and there will be documentary video as well led by Alexander Gutterman. So the result will a collection of voices that cannot be ignored. Is there anything you need from us to help you accomplish your goals? Everyone must be involved as much as possible. The itinerary is posted on our website and Facebook. Please meet with us on those days; the website will be updated with details. Walk with us for segments if you are able. Contact your local media to let them know. Please coordinate with our media organizer who is John Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org). Everybody is volunteering but there some expenses. So as much as you can, donations are welcome via PayPal directed to email@example.com.
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