'Universal healthcare is a failure': Dr. Manny Sethi outlines a free market healthcare system in bid for US Senate

Written by Alan Condon | December 09, 2019 | Print  |

Nashville, Tenn.-based orthopedic trauma surgeon Manny Sethi, MD, launched his bid for Tennessee's open U.S. Senate seat in June and has since clocked up 35,000 miles in his car on the campaign trail.

He is one of two orthopedic surgeons running for the U.S. Senate in 2020 with independent candidate Al Gross, MD, challenging the seat held by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Dr. Sethi's primary opponent is fellow conservative Republican Bill Hagerty, who recently stepped down as U.S. Ambassador to Japan to run for the open seat.

Here, Dr. Sethi discusses his campaign and healthcare initiatives, which center around tackling the opioid epidemic and establishing an individual insurance system with less government involvement.

Note: Responses are lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: This is the first time two orthopedic surgeons have simultaneously run for the U.S. Senate, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Why do you think more physicians are looking to get into politics?

Dr. Manny Sethi: I think physicians by nature and the way we are trained should be community leaders. As our country's healthcare system becomes more and more out of touch and dysfunctional, I think you see that leadership in physicians starting to come out, and I think that's why more physicians are starting to run.

Q: Was there a defining moment that made you want to throw your name into the hat?

MS: My parents immigrated here from India and I was born here. We lived in a small rural town and I always wanted to give back and make a difference and that's what called me to public service. When I was a young medical student my father got hit with a medical malpractice lawsuit in the last three months of his life when he had liver cancer. It was a frivolous malpractice case and the day of his deposition, he died. I realized here was a man who gave his whole life to taking care of patients and look what happened to him. If this could happen to my family, it could happen to any family and that's why it's important for physicians to be engaged in public discourse.

Q: The opioid crisis is obviously a huge issue that you have firsthand experience with. How do you plan on tackling it if elected to the U.S. Senate?

MS: I've been very interested in this because I run a nonprofit, Healthy Tennessee. Over the last nine years we've travelled the entire state and been in all 95 counties taking care of patients. In the last two years we've made a real focus on this issue, we've had a statewide summit and 15 roundtables in different cities across Tennessee bringing together recovery addicts, drug court judges, local sheriffs, mayors and talking about ways we can solve this problem. There's not a one size fits all solution. I think the federal government needs to get out of the way and empower local communities, mayors and sheriffs. Right now, all the funding runs through state government and it needs to flow directly from the federal government to more of these local counties to help them.

The big drug companies need to pay the price for what they've done. They need to pay for a lot of the recovery and [programs] we need to set up. Secondly, federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Justice that were asleep at the switch; we need to figure out what happened. How did they fail? We need to better educate our healthcare providers about the risks of addiction after 3-5 days of taking these drugs. In Tennessee, for example, there are more prescriptions for opioids than there are people. Opioids and fentanyl have become the number one killer of people — more than car accidents — and I'm a trauma surgeon. As a state, we need more medication-assisted treatment facilities, more mental health recovery, and meaningful employment and faith-based recovery options for people who are in the throws of addiction. Finally, we need to educate everyone about adverse childhood events. Sixty-one percent of people who are addicted to drugs will tell you that something really bad happened to them as a child.

Q: Turning to your competition, how much of a challenge does Bill Hagerty present given his profile and endorsement from President Trump?

MS: I think Bill Hagerty is a really good family man. He was endorsed by the President on Twitter. [The President] met me once two years ago but I'm not sure that he really knew about me. I'm a conservative Christian outsider, but Bill Hagerty is more of the same. He was Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) national finance chairman and is completely endorsed by the establishment. I believe we're going to do very well because I don't think Tennesseans want a Republican establishment Washington insider. I think they want a conservative Christian outsider, and that's me. No matter how much money he raises or how many times Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has fundraisers for him, the bottom line is that people in Tennessee know what's real. At the end of this race, I think it'll become very clear who the true conservative is.

Q: You're a big advocate for less government involvement in healthcare. How do you see a system with less federal influence working for both patients and physicians?

MS: My opponent and I differ on this. [Bill Hagerty] supported Mitt Romney's universal healthcare plan. I believe in a free market-based plan. When 18 percent of our economy is healthcare, we really need to have price transparency. Whether it's the payer or the provider, nobody knows what we're paying for. We need to know the fixed cost. We also need more options in our insurance market. Large employers need to give employees the option to take the money back instead of purchasing from one of the large insurance companies. They should be able to go to an individual insurance market where they have competition across state lines, and you can buy your own health insurance. Small businesses should get the same tax benefits that large companies do and get rid of the essential health benefits. I really believe that overnight you'll see premiums and deductibles drop. Even with price transparency and an individual insurance market, if we don't start talking about prevention, l don't think anything will change.

Right now in our country, we pay to treat disease and not promote wellness and I think we need to reward providers who are focusing on those things. Patients and providers will be happier. The only people who won't be happier are the big insurance companies, because they're making all this money off the backs off American workers. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are talking about Medicare for All and keep bringing up countries like Finland, but their healthcare system is broken. Right now, Finland is in an economic and governmental crisis because of the healthcare plans they have. Universal healthcare is a failure.

Just like our bedside care is so important in taking care of our patients, where we're at with healthcare in America right now, it's equally important that we support good candidates who are going to go to Washington and fight for our patients and for a free market healthcare system. Because we will lose it in the blink of an eye if we don't.

More articles on orthopedics:
3 orthopedic surgeons to expand services at new Iowa facility
2 recent value-based partnerships for orthopedic procedures
DePuy Synthes recalls devices used in spine fixation system: 6 things to know

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