By Dr. Dave Campbell
Imagine a future in the United States in which the opportunity to receive health care exists for all people. Then think of that same country in which social justice exists for each person and each community. We hopped the river to Newark, New Jersey and learned that Senator Cory Booker already has those aspirations.
The year 2019 has brought plenty of health challenges to the United States. The largest number of people in twenty-five years have been infected by the measles virus. Gun violence continues unabated. Obesity with its associated risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia is an epidemic. Opioid overdose, tobacco deaths, alcohol-related car crashes, e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI), it can be asked where is it all going to stop? And what are the solutions to advance health and healthcare opportunities for millions in the United States who struggle to pay rent and buy food while purchasing necessary medicines for chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure? What measures will rein-in the high cost of health insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, prescription medications, medically-necessary tests, surgery and hospitalizations? How can surprise, eye-popping medical bills, even for those with health insurance be a relic of the past? What are pathways to universal healthcare in the United States that will have bipartisan support and the support of most Americans?
As a practicing physician interested in answers to these questions, I spoke with Senator Booker at his home in Newark which enjoys a commanding view of New York City back across the river. His years of experience as the Mayor of Newark and now a United States Senator for New Jersey, combined with an abundance of intelligence, character and compassion for all Americans, has created a leader with character traits worthy of respect.
Senator Booker leads Americans by example and raises awareness of the importance of diet, exercise and lifestyle to health. As a vegan he has already lowered his cholesterol, his risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and keeps his weight under control more easily. He exercises regularly and doesn’t smoke. The busy senator recognizes the value of sleep and commits to meditation every day. He does all this to maintain optimal physical and mental health. If this health-conscious, physically-fit former college athlete has his way, millions of Americans will shift to better health-related behaviors.
The United States could use a seismic shift to lower rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Senator Booker represents a beacon of hope to shine through the clouds of largely preventable chronic disease and disability.
Senator Booker explained how most days start with a session of meditation followed by a variety of exercises. His Newark basement is outfitted with free weights, a weight-machine, exercise bike and a floor mat, everything he needs to stay in shape. The big flat-screen TV helps keep him up-to-date on breaking news while maintaining his muscular and cardiovascular conditioning.
Being a United States Senator doesn’t just keep him busy, it’s tremendously stressful. He defuses that stress by practicing mindfulness throughout the day. He’s also a voracious reader and when not studying or reading for pleasure, Senator Booker keeps grounded by enjoying time with friends and family.
Cory Booker’s accomplishments as mayor and senator are legion. It is his commitment to improving the health of fellow Americans that has been a life-long ambition. Among his many goals as a leader, there are more than a few that will help improve health and health care for those most in need. He will enable a country where those living in rural American can stay home to work, rather than being displaced far from home. He will launch the City 2030 Project to bring small and medium-sized cities to the forefront of economic and cultural growth and dynamism. He will direct federal resources to communities desperately in need, those impoverished and those in deep and persistent poverty. He will invest in evidence-based interventions for the low-income and rural communities typically left behind, so they can realize their visions for economic growth.
Physicians in the United States are accustomed to patients arriving for their physical examination armed with the latest, greatest research culled from the internet. Senator Booker intends to make high-speed broadband a reality for all rural and non-rural communities. He recognizes what physicians and nurse practitioners need to practice quality medicine, and that for patients to thrive in the arena of health and healthcare, medical literacy through internet access is crucial.
Senator Booker will improve the plight of local, independent businesses faced with mounting healthcare costs by addressing higher prescription drug prices. This mounting problem especially affects those most in need of their medications. He will rein-in the worsening access to hospitals and pharmacies as more and more of the smaller or more rural facilities shutter their doors. He intends to help reverse the suppression of wage growth for hospital workers caused by the growing trend for mergers in the United States hospital sector. Senator Booker speaks of his aspirations to protect the public from so-called vertical mergers in the health care space. He points out the concerns raised by the FDA commissioner when two large health care insurers merged with pharmacy benefit managers.
High-level corporate activities are not well-understood most of my patients in the United States. They aren’t following the news in the health care business section. Rather, they are watching their insurance premiums go up, deductibles sky-rocket and cost of prescription medicines at times priced beyond their reach.
While he hasn’t had his break-out moment yet in the polls, Senator Booker told me he can still win and has the message to make that happen. While he certainly has the charisma, message and experience to win the nomination, I reminded him how close he came in the past to be chosen as a vice-presidential running mate. It was only two days before our Morning Joe team visit to Newark that the website- New Jersey.com Politics, reported Cory Booker to be the odds-on favorite to become the 2020 Democratic vice-presidential nominee. Senator Booker has the character, temperament and heart to lead Americans to better health, no matter the office he holds.
The day before my visit to the former mayor’s home in Newark, Mika chatted with him on Morning Joe. She asked him about his candidacy. “This election hasn’t settled,” Senator Booker said. “It is won on the ground in Iowa. You have to start talking about universal health care.”
“The majority of Americans do not know what things cost in health care,” Mike Barnacle said to the senator. “They do know what their drugs, prescription drugs cost them. What can you do immediately to change prescription drug prices?”
“The president can use Medicare to negotiate down costs,” Senator Booker responded. “The president has a lot of actions…We cannot afford the system we have right now…Healthcare is a right for everyone.”
The very next day, I was enjoying a vegan fruit smoothie with the senator in his home in Newark. He affirmed his aspirations for the health of fellow Americans includes universal health care. It is my observation that charges and payments for health care in United States are linked to a flawed, complex and fragmented system. Senator Booker brings a pragmatic approach to transforming that system into one that is more accessible and understandable while maintaining quality and safety. And it’s not just physical ailments, injuries and diseases, Senator Booker recognizes the stigma of mental illness and the need to address it head-on. If given the chance, his words and deeds will bring the United States into a period of enlightenment regarding mental health.
His life’s mission, as I see it, is to right the wrong of social and health inequities that devast the most impoverished in the United States. He recognizes one way to achieve this goal. He will reduce the vast differences in health care costs between the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. Senator Booker is committed to lowering costs while raising quality in health care.
During a walk though the heart of Newark, Senator Booker and I came across a few of his neighbors. Every one of them waved and smiled while many thanked him for all he does for their community. His response was always open, warm and supportive.
Our conversation turned to my own family as he asked me about my children and grandchildren. When he learned of my six children and four grandchildren, he started to grin from ear to ear. There was no mistaking his interest in me as a person. It was also evident that his parents and siblings helped shaped Cory Booker into the compassionate, thoughtful person he is today.
In his memoir, United-Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good, Senator Booker wrote the words of respected author, playwright and activist, the late James Baldwin, whose words are reflective of Booker’s own upbringing. “Children are never good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them…Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
I came to learn that Senator Booker loves not just adults, but children as well. He opened-up with me about his desire to have children. Apparently, he’s been thinking a lot about this recently and feels the time is right. I will not be surprised to see a little Cory Booker Jr. sporting a New Jersey Devils onesie before too long.
A Morning Joe Presidential Candidate Medical Check-up like this is all about identifying health issues voters should know of. After spending a few hours with Senator Booker, he certainly seems to be in excellent physical and mental shape.
“How important is presidential candidate’s health,” I asked. “And even the president’s? How much should the American public know?” The senator believes transparency and openness is important for the American people. He advocates for the electorate knowing the health of those they are placing in office.
I wanted to know how a busy vegan senator balances nutrition with comfort foods. He likes to keep it simple. He proved the point by offering me a homemade smoothie, right then, right there, in his kitchen. Never one to turn down food, I took the senator up on his offer. Frozen bananas, organic blueberries and a few other assorted vegan ingredients went into the blender. In a jiffy, I was downing a delicious and healthy concoction. He proved that with nutrition, simplicity wins the day.
We spoke a lot of the importance of preventing disease through diet, exercise and lifestyle choices. I was pleased we shared common ground. He advocates achieving optimal health by avoiding refined sugar and tobacco, eating fresh fruit, lots of vegetables, nuts and berries, exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco. His personal choice is to avoid consuming animal products.
We wrapped up the morning when Senator Booker told me that what he went through as mayor, right there in Newark, allowed him to learn a lot about the stresses and strains of American life. “We have got to shift our whole system,” he said. I knew he meant it from the bottom of his heart.