Mon, Sep

The Doctor is In … the CA Insurance Commissioner Race

BCK FILE--As a Southern California pulmonologist and doctor of internal medicine, Dr. Asif Mahmood (photo above, right)has been at the frontline of healthcare in Southern California for 18 years.. The physician says the issue of healthcare has never been more important and he has specific ideas about what’s needed to turn the state around. 

Dr. Mahmood’s story began thousands of miles away in a small rural village in Pakistan. “I went to an elementary school with no chairs or desks. We’d sit on the grass under a tree and on a rainy day, we’d have no school,” he says. “My father had a very humble beginning. His father died when he was six so he could not continue his education. He wanted to be a doctor but didn’t have the economic resources so he dreamed his son could be a doctor. I was the first kid from my village to go to medical school. When I graduated, my father said he could die now because his mission was done.” 

Once he had completed medical school in Pakistan, the doctor came to the US in 1987 to complete his residency at the University of Kentucky. “I came to this country for higher education and realized this was a place where people who want to pursue a good life and happiness, freedom of speech, religion, and expression,” he says, “My children could be growing up with that. I’ve very proud to say that my kids are living the American dream.” The doctor earned his citizenship and moved to California with his family in 2000. 

Two years ago, however, Dr. Mahmood (photo right)noticed a shift. “When Trump became a candidate, he was open against minorities,against all races and colors and it got worse when he became president. I realized he was attacking me as a Muslim. He was attacking immigrants and I am an immigrant. He was attacking healthcare and I am a physician. He was attacking true American and California values,” he says. “California represents diversity and inclusiveness. There is no other place like California because of that.” 

Dr. Mahmood says he decided that we need a candidate for insurance commissioner who sounds different, looks different, and has the unique experience to help people and to serve. “In my two decades of practice at Huntington emergency room and in San Gabriel Valley, I have never once charged a patient who didn’t have insurance and I never put a patient in collections.  I never turned away patients. In fact, when other doctors would see patients without insurance in the ER, they’d say ‘Dr. Mahmood is your doctor. He will never send a bill.’’ I understand what it’s like to not have money to put food on the table or to buy books for kids. I understand what it’s like to worry about the doctor’s’ fee or prescription drugs when you’re worried about the next meal. California is struggling and so is our whole country.” 

The candidate believes the Affordable Care Act did make a difference. More people would seek help but he says certain obstacles have prevented affordable care from its true implementation. “It can take weeks or months to find a specialist or to have tests ordered if your plan is not good. Months can be too late when you have chest pains and can’t see a doctor and you end up in the ER with a heart attack or a cough turns out months later to be pneumonia or lung cancer or you are diagnosed with kidney damage,” he explains. 

The current state is not the best way -- and Dr. Mahmood says that’s where he comes in, to work with the federal government to enact and manage care in California, which is the responsibility of the insurance commissioner. He intends to work with doctors and insurers to create change in numerous issues, from how people are charged co-pays and are autobilled to the lack of sufficient aftercare upon discharge from a hospital or facility. 

“We aren’t even close to covering what is right and that is why we need to bring in someone whose job is not a politician but someone who deals with health plans and personal stories, to fight with the insurance main office just to be declined,” he says. “How can you argue with a person who went to college for 4 years, to medical school for another 4 years and who had additional training versus a clerk who wants to keep his bonus and to have job security if he spends a minimum amount of time and denies tests?” 

“A life-saving diagnosis cannot only help people and families but can also help the system by keeping the cost down. Insurance companies and pharma don’t have an interest to keep people healthy but to keep people sick to make more money,” explains Mahmood. “I have pledged from day one not to take a penny from insurance companies or pharma or tobacco. These industries can cause an obstruction between the common man or woman and their healthcare rights.” 

Dr. Mahmood’s platform is based on affordable, accessible, and top quality healthcare. In my next column, we will cover his plan to bring these three components of healthcare to California.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a professional writer living in the Los Angeles area. She covers Resistance Watch and other major issues for CityWatch.)