Q: With regard to access disparities, what are some state policy changes that could help begin to correct this situation?
We have to not just have a dialogue, but we have to really be committed and intentional about putting measures in place to change health disparities—for example, increasing access by opening more rural hospitals, ensuring access to specialists and capping medication prices. The system was designed for one specific group of people, but now we have to make it inclusive, and we have to make change in a way that is lasting and sustainable.
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Q: What are some of the most effective ways that patients and providers can advocate?
Do contact your legislator, whether you’re in politics or not. Providers can also be proactive by encouraging patients to advocate for themselves. Don’t get discouraged. This is a long process. And don’t give up. If you don’t hear back from your legislator, find another way to communicate with them. You can call the offices, send email or reach out through social media. Do be prepared to tell us what you want. If you don’t know specifically what your need is, then work with advocacy groups. And finally, do know your policymaker, what they stand for and their platform.
Q: When legislators hear from providers and patients through advocacy efforts, what effect does it have?
Policymakers are people too. The touch point is finding that connection, sharing your story. If we make it human, then people have a capacity to understand and have empathy. When I work with the rheumatologists that come to the capitol, it gives me perspective on their daily challenges, the resources that they need and the barriers that they face.
Q: Given the uncertainty today with the election and the pandemic, what do you see as being the biggest challenges and opportunities for health policy in Georgia and nationally in 2021?
COVID-19 exposed a lot of gaps in healthcare—for example, the number of people who are uninsured—and now we realize that the whole healthcare system needs to be reformed. We’ve got to look at making systemic changes, not just quick fixes, to really build a strong healthcare system that can and will work for most if not all people.
Kimberly J. Retzlaff is a freelance medical journalist based in Denver.