Making health care better

There is a family story from my mother’s people about my Great-Grandmother Lizzy Danner. Her mother-in-law would come for long visits and would carry all of her patent medicine with her for various illnesses she thought she had. Her son, Lizzy’s husband, would say, “Mother, you are making your stomach an apothecary.” Undaunted in her belief for the patent medicines, it became Lizzy’s responsibility to administer her mother-in-law’s medications.

One day, Lizzy administered my great-great grandmother’s elixir, but by mistake gave her a spoonful of liniment. As the older woman gasped she uttered, “My goodness Lizzy, I believe you’ve killed me.” “That’s just what I’ve done!” cried Lizzy and with the same spoon, she dipped a spoonful of fresh cream and forced it down her mother-in-law, hoping it would serve as an antidote.

As I think of this family story, it reminds of the terrible state of our health care system today. 33,000 Americans a year are dying because of opioid misuse. We know that 26.6 percent of Iowans will need some sort of mental health treatment in the next year, but mental health services aren’t even available in some communities in Iowa. Alcohol misuse accounts for 100,000 deaths in America annually and the impact on the health and well-being of others is undeterminable. Health care costs keep going up while services are less accessible every day.

First, there are things we can each do to improve our health. While many illnesses are because of our genetic composition, we can often reduce the risk of illnesses by exercising, proper diet, and self-care. Studies suggest that people over 80 who exercise four or more hours per week, take far less medicine than people who do not.

As we know our health risks, we have better opportunities to implement self-care to reduce or eliminate disease onset. This requires us, as a state, to do more education about the onsets, courses and durations of illnesses. I am told that my 1975 Schwinn bicycle with baskets is legendary in Marshalltown. I try to ride it as much as possible when I am running errands. Activities like that help not only reduce pollution and reliance on fossil fuels, but also contribute to good health.

Unfortunately, Gov. Reynolds and the GOP today are making health care both unaffordable and inaccessible for Iowans.

The GOP’s Medicaid privatization plan, which turned over health care for thousands of Iowans to out-of-state for-profit companies, is not working. Iowans are receiving fewer services, providers are closing their doors, and it even led to the death of an Iowan in Orange City because he was denied care he had received for years.

The GOP closed two mental health hospitals, making it even more difficult for Iowans to get treatment. Another 72,000 Iowans are facing a whopping 43 percent increase in health insurance premiums next year because the GOP refuses to do anything to fix our health care system.

There need to be significant changes in how health care is being spooned out. We have to work together to make health care more affordable and accessible to every Iowan.

Here’s how we can start to make our health care system better: 1) moving away from Medicaid privatization which is hitting rural areas especially hard, 2) developing an Iowa specific health insurance program that addresses the issues in the individual health care market in Iowa, 3) developing a comprehensive system of training and retaining health care providers in Iowa, 4) adequately addressing mental health and substance use disorders, 5) promoting activities that increase the wellness of the population, and 6) ensuring there services to all aspects of our population.

If we can get to work on these ideas, we can stop the poison and the antidote from being administered by the same spoon.


State Rep. Mark Smith can be reached via mail at 816 Roberts Terrace, Marshalltown, Iowa 50158; by email at; or at 641-750-9278.