As one of three medical doctors in the Kentucky General Assembly, Sen. Ralph Alvarado thinks the body would benefit from having more physician-legislators who are trained in objective thinking and problem solving.
The Winchester Republican talked about health-related issues before the state legislature this session with KET’s Renee Shaw on a recent edition of Connections. Alvarado was elected in November to represent the 28th Senate District, which comprises Clark and Montgomery counties as well as part of Fayette County.
Alvarado is a doctor and regional medical director with the KentuckyOne Medical Group. He defeated former Senate Minority Leader R. J. Palmer in a hotly contested rematch of a race between the two candidates in 2010. Alvarado says in addition to holding unpopular political views, Palmer wasn’t visible enough in the district. For his part, Alvarado pledges to have regular town hall meetings with his constituents to get their feedback and let them know what he’s doing in Frankfort.
Alvarado says he’s proud to be the first Latino in the Kentucky legislature. The son of an immigrant, Alvarado says the Hispanic population in the state will continue to grow. He says he encourages other immigrants to raise their children with high expectations for educational achievement and with the ability to speak both English and Spanish.
A Doctor’s Eye for Policy
Physicians have a much better sense of the weaknesses in the current health care system, according to Alvarado. He contends doctors of both political parties should take a greater role in the legislative process to prevent bad policy decisions from being made on their behalf.
He attributes his desire to run for office to the failure of state lawmakers to address medical tort reform. “Our physicians are frightened enough that they don’t feel comfortable using their own judgment for health care,” Alvarado says.
He supports legislation to create medical review panels to decide whether a malpractice complaint has sufficient merit to proceed to the courts. Alvarado says the current system only benefits trial lawyers while making it more difficult to attract good doctors to work in the state. He contends there are sufficient safeguards within medical licensing boards and among physicians’ insurance carriers to eliminate bad doctors from practicing.
Alvarado also says he would have no credibility as a doctor if he didn’t support a statewide smoking ban in public places. He says he favors personal liberties, but also realizes the role of tobacco use and second-hand smoke in many of Kentucky’s health problems. Alvarado also sees smoking as an economic development issue. He argues that companies will avoid locating here as long as the state has such high rates of cancer and chronic diseases.
Finally, the Republican says it’s time the state implemented charter school legislation, and he wants to see public school systems reduce the number of administrators in their districts.
A Cancer Fight at Home
Early in his 2014 election bid, Alvarado’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. He says the two of them decided Alvarado should continue his campaign even while she underwent surgery and chemotherapy to treat the cancer. Alvarado says breast cancer is a huge problem, affecting one in eight women, and he fears it may be linked to some environmental cause.
The doctor says the experience has strengthened his belief in mammograms and other exams for early detection. He acknowledges the costs of screening for some types of cancer are still expensive, but catching the disease early can help save lives. He also says he wishes Medicare used more tangible incentives to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles, such as the rewards that insurance companies give to people who lose weight or make dietary changes.