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Dr. Oz on health care, Oprah and an occasional screwdriver

Mark Rahner
The Seattle Times (MCT)

My interview with Dr. Mehmet Oz — frequent Oprah guest and star of "The Dr. Oz" show — was longer than most doctor appointments. Which isn't saying much.

Dr. Oz: The free-clinic movement to me is very important.

Q: Tell me about the one you held in September in Texas.

A: We chose to go to Texas because it's the state with the highest percentage of uninsured people, and Houston is the city that can boast one in three people without health insurance. And we decided to do the clinic in order to put a face on the plight of the uninsured in America. And just to make it clear, 83 percent of everybody who goes to a free clinic has a job. These are regular folks who for one reason or another have lost their insurance. In the clinic, we ended up seeing more people than had ever been seen in a day, which is embarrassing for me to admit because it means that we've got such a huge resource problem.

Q: It sounded like a real Third-World scenario.

A: I thought I'd be practicing medicine in a tent one day. I just didn't think it would be in America.

Q: You don't sound proud that America ranks 37th in health care.

A: We're actually 40th in the last survey I saw. It's embarrassing and I think we could do a lot better with the money we spend. It's not that I want to (increase) the money we spend on health care; it's that I want to get more for what we're putting into health care. There are simple things we don't do in this country, and not all of them are in the health-care space — the way we subsidize foods that aren't good for us, the way we make it difficult for people to exercise like they should. We have to make it easier to do the right thing in America or we're going to have a society that is continually plagued by health battles.

Q: What would be your fix?

A: It should be mandatory that everybody in America have health-care coverage. If you can't afford it, we have to give it to you.

And then once everyone's in the system, we have to do a lot of things that are naturally doable by humans, and they have been doing in other countries already so we don't have to reinvent the wheel, to reduce the chance that you're going to be leading yourself into a lifetime of health despair by not addressing the chronic health issues you face.

Q: You did a foreplay map for Oprah. I thought you were a cardiac surgeon.

A: I'm a curious surgeon before I'm a cardiac surgeon. Before you become a cardiac surgeon you have to be a general surgeon and so you have to know all about the human body including, in this case, how the sexual organs work because you have to operate on them. And so making the jump from there to understanding a bit more about the emotion is an important step.

The one thing that I learned more than anything else as a host vs. a surgeon is that a male surgeon will always try to fix the problem, but many times the viewers just want their problem heard. They don't actually need it to be fixed all the time.

Q: Why do your book titles begin with "YOU" in giant capital letters? I feel as if you're yelling at me.

A: So I won't forget them. We wanted to make it really clear that the book wasn't about anything but you. And it's meant not to be an accusatory "you" but the Fonzie "you" — Hey, guy, it's up to you! Only you can do this.

Q: Let's talk briefly about Oprah. How would you treat her ego?

A: Oprah's a remarkably authentic person. She's exactly what you see on the screen behind the scenes. All of the beautiful things about her and all the blisters you may see as well.

Q: What's the most unhealthy thing you do? Prove you're human.

A: I got plenty of problems. Sometimes when I get really busy, I don't eat enough. I mean I eat well but I don't eat enough, so I lose weight.

Q: You're looking a little peaked.

A: Yeah, a little peaked. This interview's worn me down.

Q: Does a screwdriver count as a health drink?

A: Ninety percent of the benefit of any drink is the alcohol, so yes.

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