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Friday Feb 05, 2016

Get the Candidates Talking About Family Medicine Issues

After months of buildup, Iowans like me finally voted in our caucus this month.  

Presidential candidates had been meeting with voters in the Hawkeye State for the past year to explain how they would lead the country (and how they would do it better than their opponents). The experience for me started last April during a meeting with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. I was invited by a friend, and we sat around a table with 15 others to hear Rubio's thoughts and to ask questions.

Of course, I asked about health care, and Rubio said he would repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). I asked what he would replace it with, but his response was vague. Since that meeting, Rubio has reiterated his desire to get rid of the ACA, but he still has not offered a specific plan for a replacement.  

This is a frustrating part of the process, and it certainly is not unique to one politician or one party. The candidates like to repeat their favorite soundbites, but they rarely offer detailed solutions. Too often, discussions on the campaign trail are about getting elected rather than solving real problems.

In Iowa, candidates continued to meet with voters in increasingly large groups across the state as their campaigns went on. We were bombarded with TV and print ads. And for the unfortunate families that still have landlines, the phone calls were frequent. In recent weeks, our local newspapers covered every candidate visit and recapped what was said.

We Iowans take this process seriously; we try to stay informed and influence where we should go as a country. A record 186,874 Republican voters participated(www.huffingtonpost.com), while the Democrats drew 171,109 caucus-goers. That equates to a turnout of 15.7 percent of eligible voters.

It's worth noting that in states with primaries, polling stations typically are open throughout the day, and people can vote at their convenience. A caucus requires attendance and registration at one specific time of day, so voter turnout of nearly 16 percent is remarkable.

During the Republican caucus that my wife and I attended, roughly 450 people participated. Representatives for each candidate spoke for three minutes or less -- except Rubio, who spoke for himself -- in one final opportunity to reach voters. The speeches were respectful and in stark contrast to the contentious discussions and often unsavory behavior we have been subjected to in the candidates' televised debates.

Too often we can't talk about politics in our society. Many issues are polarizing, and people aren't willing to listen to what others have to say. Before the caucuses, my wife and I attended a discussion on civility(showsomerespectiowa.org). The speakers talked about things such as how to discuss controversial topics without being judgmental and how to defuse a tense situation. I think we were able to use that in discussions with our friends, neighbors, and colleagues to bring back meaningful political discussion. Just because someone disagrees with me does not make them wrong or uncaring. It simply means they have a different view on how the problem should be solved. We need to be able to work together to solve our problems, both locally and nationally.

We are done with the presidential candidates here in Iowa. Our state has only six electoral votes, so we likely won’t see them again before Election Day.

Many of you, however, will still have opportunities to vote in your state's caucuses and primaries. You can make connections with candidates or their staff members and talk with them about the problems our practices and our patients face -- issues that deserve more than their well-practiced talking points. Make your voice heard, and make your vote count.

Robert Lee, M.D., is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 02:14PM Feb 05, 2016 by Robert Lee, M.D.

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