Dentist and activist Dr. Javad Aghaloo says the best way to fix Obamacare is by adopting a single-payer, universal healthcare system
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. We’re coming to you live on Facebook with some breaking news. Republicans have conceded defeat on their latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, after their own, several of their own party members have refused to back it in the Senate. It’s not even coming to a vote. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has conceded. Well, to talk about what this all means and whether this opens up a space for further discussion of single-payer, we’re joined by our guest today, Dr. Javad Aghaloo. He’s a dentist, activist and advocate for single-payer healthcare along with a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Thank you so much for joining us today. JAVAD AGHALOO: Good to be with you. JAISAL NOOR: For our viewers, again we are live, so please send us your questions in the comments section on Facebook and we will try to ask our guest. So give us your response. Are you surprised by this defeat of this latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Republicans have campaigned on this. They’ve promised to do it for, tried to do it for years now and they have, even with this Republican majority, even with a Republican President Trump, who again ran on this, unable to get this to happen. Is this, your response and is this a testament to the grass roots that have spoken up and risen up and pressured their Senators to not support this? JAVAD AGHALOO: I’m not surprised and I’m not surprised because of the grassroots. I think the people have really spoken up. I know a lot of the protest that have been going on, especially with disabled people, recipients of Medicaid, which in the Republican bill was going to be cut by hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. I serve mostly Medicaid patients where I’m at in Southeastern California, and it would be devastating to my patients as well. I’m not surprised that it failed and I’m glad it did. JAISAL NOOR: Talk a little bit about the community you work with. Republicans have said that the Obamacare, Affordable Care Act has really hurt Americans across the country, and to some extent they’re right. Some premiums have gone up. That helps sort of raise this, helped elect Republicans and helped fuel this opposition to Obamacare. Have you seen that in your community? JAVAD AGHALOO: Well I come from a very low income, high unemployment immigrant population of Southern California and I haven’t seen that directly in my community. I do know that premiums have gone up, but premiums always go up with insurance companies. However, in my community, it’s about 85% Medicaid. In California they call it Medi-Cal, but it’s the same thing. I’m a dentist and there are some dental benefits with Medi-Cal, Medicaid. They’re limited but those definitely would have been taken away if the Republican bill was passed. We have to try to hang on to whatever we can. In fact, I’ve taken it a step further and as you know, I’ve created a nonprofit organization that fills in the gap. Does extra services for patients in need, low income patients for free. I don’t charge them anything. This includes veterans. I don’t know if you guys realize this, but veterans have to be 100% disabled to get any dental care from the VA. 100%. So they could be 80% disabled, things like that. They don’t get any dental from the VA, so I’m taking care of those patients as well. JAISAL NOOR: No one really likes going to the dentist. People kind of dread and being under the drill and the lights. It can be pretty intimidating. Talk about the importance of preventative care and maintenance in helping prevent the more serious occurrences that can happen. JAVAD AGHALOO: Yes. I’m glad you bring that up because prevention is the key. A lot of the patients that I see that don’t have any coverage, they wait til they have an infection or a toothache. That’s too late. We need to be able to see these patients ahead of time and prevent problems and educate the students and the parents. In fact, I go around, not just to schools and speak about this, but to different organizations of adults, to educate the parents that we need to advocate for prevention and regular dental check-ups and visits every six months. A dental check up every six months and a cleaning. If at that point there’s a little cavity, you can take care of it very easily as opposed to waiting until something gets huge and infection and pain and things like that. That’s what we need to prevent. JAISAL NOOR: We know that the United States is the only advanced, modern country without universal access to healthcare. Yet there’s this tremendous opposition to it, through Republicans and even Democrats. Hillary Clinton said it’s never going to happen. Nancy Pelosi said it’s never going to happen, yet we’ve seen this sort of resurgence. I think at least 16 Senators have backed Senator Sander’s proposal. Do you support single-payer? Why or why not? JAVAD AGHALOO: I absolutely support single-payer and it’s definitely doable. Other countries have done it. Kind of in different ways, different nuance, but other countries have done it and I know we can do it. I’m military. The military does it. We all do it. Nobody pays. I think that not only should it be medical but dental should be included because the mouth is part of the rest of your body. If you have infection and disease in your mouth, you have infection and disease in the rest of your body. It can be done. It just has to be the will of the people to do it and the will of Congress to do it. I think a lot of dentists and a lot of providers, physicians as well, are a little bit scared. They think they might get paid less. They think they might have to do other things that don’t fuel their income as much, but I disagree with that. I think we can have appropriate pay to the professionals and appropriate care to the people. JAISAL NOOR: Again, for our viewers, we are live on Facebook, so if you have questions for Dr. J, let us know. Right now everyone’s posting about single-payer, so we know that you’re on board for that. JAVAD AGHALOO: Excellent. JAISAL NOOR: But if you have any more questions, please send them right now. So you bring up an interesting point because is it in your interest as a dentist to have single-payer? How’s that going to affect you? JAVAD AGHALOO: It is. I also have private practices, and I started a nonprofit because there was a huge gap in who got coverage. To me, success isn’t how much money you make, it’s how many people you help, so that’s what I’m doing. To me, it doesn’t make any difference and I think still I’ll be able to have an appropriate income with government reimbursements from the healthcare programs and the dental care programs, so it’s not going to affect me at all. I just think that people fear it. They don’t know whether it’s going to affect them. The fear drives them to not want change, and I want change. JAISAL NOOR: Talk about where your colleagues stand. We know there’s thousands of doctors that support this, medical doctors that support single-payer, but where does the dental community stand on single-payer? JAVAD AGHALOO: I think the dental community isn’t quite as involved, because we haven’t included dental in the medical for all these years, but I will tell you it’s integrated. It’s the same. For example, if somebody’s going to get open heart surgery, they send them to a dentist first to make sure there’s no infection in their mouth because when you have surgery you don’t want to have infection in your mouth and go through the rest of the body. It’s definitely related to each other, but so far in this country, we haven’t related the two, and it’s time that we did. The dental professionals, they do want to give back, a lot of them. They do want to see the low income community improved, so they are willing to give their time, often, but it might be a day here or a day there. We need consistency. We need comprehensive care. We need prevention. That’s what I’m all about. JAISAL NOOR: You think we’ve seen a turning point in this country when it comes to this discussion of single-payer because people call it socialized medicine. We still sort of have that, sort of the fear, almost like this irrational fear of anything that’s socialized in this country, even though we have socialized, socialized tax break for the wealthy, but when it comes to providing services for the poor, that’s totally off the table. Has the tide turned? JAVAD AGHALOO: I think it has. I agree with you 100%. It’s an irrational fear. We just say the word socialism and everybody gets scared. But we already have programs that are doing it and they’re successful. Medicare for the elderly works well. Single-payer can be something like Medicare-for-all, like Bernie talks about. I think we can include dental as well, but we have to start somewhere. I agree the tide has turned. A lot of people now aren’t scared of just the word socialism. They’re ready to take action. JAISAL NOOR: So we have a question from Kyle. We know that medical school, dental school can be really expensive. Some doctors might be on the fence because they have to pay back their loans. What would you say to them? These concerned doctors or dentists that say I’m not going to make enough money under the socialized program to pay off my loans, to support my family and they’re against this right now? JAVAD AGHALOO: I deal with that a lot because I have several young doctors that work for me and I had to pay back my student loans as well, but luckily there are some programs already in existence. I have a doctor, a young guy that works for me in my nonprofit organization, and just because he works for a nonprofit and we document it and we send in all the information, he gets a break on his student loans. They’re paying back some of the loans for him. I think developing programs like that would make doctors and dentists more likely to be involved. That’s a great question and there are solutions. JAISAL NOOR: Now have you traveled to other countries that have universal access, single-payer healthcare and what’s the experience been there that you’ve seen? JAVAD AGHALOO: I’ve traveled to other countries. I’ve never had dental care or provided dental care in another country in that regard. I was discussing some things with a guy from England the other day, and he’s just appalled by the fact that we don’t have, that he has to pay to go to the doctor and dental, because they have dental, at least to a limited extent in the UK. I think that all the studies are showing … They look at kids and children’s oral health is kind of much better in other countries, European countries than it is here, unfortunately. I know we don’t think that, but believe it or not it’s true. They did studies. JAISAL NOOR: All right. Well, Dr. J, thank you so much for joining us. JAVAD AGHALOO: Thank you. Appreciate it. JAISAL NOOR: And thank you for watching us at The Real News.