Statement of Whitney Addington, MD, FACP President, ACP-ASIM
Universal Health Coverage: A Plan of Action for the Coming Year
April 22, 1999
Thank you for joining us for this special event today. As many of you may know, I will shortly begin my tenure as president of the College. I wanted to take the opportunity today to stress to you what I plan to make the central focus of my presidency - health coverage for all Americans.
This is not a departure from our organization's past. Before our merger, both the ACP and the ASIM had longstanding programs and policies aimed at increasing access to the health care system. I plan to build on this strong foundation.
In particular, I want to pay special tribute to the efforts of the ACP-ASIM's President, Harold Sox, Executive Vice President Walter McDonald, and Associate Executive Vice President Alan Nelson, for their efforts in the past year to develop and promote the College's plan to give health insurance to an additional 10 million Americans as a first step toward achieving universal coverage.
Bob Doherty, the College's senior vice president for Governmental Relations and Public Policy, will give you a detailed update on our plan. But I want to emphasize how my work in the coming year will build on this foundation and the work of committed individuals like my esteemed colleague Dr. Sox.
Let me state the following: I want progress on the issue of universal health coverage to be the major criterion by which my presidency is judged.
I think the answer can be summed up with one word - "more."
The College has more resources than ever, the nation has more resources than ever, and the upcoming presidential elections will offer more opportunities than ever for promoting the issue of universal coverage.
First, the coming year represents the first full year of the newly merged ACP-ASIM. We are now the largest medical specialty society and the second largest physician group in the nation. I speak for everyone at the College when I say that with these added resources comes added responsibility -- the responsibility to act as advocates for those vulnerable members of our society who lack health insurance.
Second, the nation has more than ever. We are living in what most economists always thought could only be a dream world -- impressive economic growth, low inflation and low unemployment. The nation is enjoying unprecedented prosperity and a federal budget surplus for the first time in generations. If we can't expand access now, when can we?
Third, the upcoming presidential elections offer an unequaled opportunity for prompting public debate on the issue of universal health coverage. Indeed, this election will probably set the tone for the beginning of the new millennium. We must make this election a de facto referendum on the problem of the uninsured.
My actions on the uninsured will fall into two broad categories - the political and the clinical.
Let me start with the clinical. I want the College to take the lead on making people understand that a lack of health insurance is every bit as much of a public health problem as cigarette smoking, substance abuse, gun violence, or a failure to immunize children.
I plan to use the College's vast resources to drive home this message at every opportunity. In medical circles, I want lack of health insurance to take on the same immediacy as drugs, guns, tobacco, and immunizations.
On the political side, I want to establish a simple goal by which we will measure success or failure.
Our goal is to have every presidential candidate - Republican, Democrat, or Independent - make a pledge that he or she will produce a plan within the first year of their presidency to create universal health coverage.
And we want every candidate for Congress to commit to enacting legislation to achieve coverage within two years of taking office.
With this pledge as a starting point, I believe we can then go forward and achieve concrete results.
The College will work to achieve this goal by a number of methods.
First, we will work extensively with other medical organizations to get our message across. We will use the political muscle of America's physicians to make sure access is a leading item on the agenda of every politician in this country.
Second, we will use the College's strong research and policy development arm to develop position papers on some of the key issues associated with universal coverage. This is a traditional strength of our organization and one that we intend to build on.
As an aside, I can say with great confidence, and an equal amount of pride, that our tax credit proposal to help the uninsured is widely regarded on Capitol Hill as the most thoughtful and comprehensive that has been introduced to date. Bob Doherty will give you more details on that. We plan to use the same resources that went into developing our incremental strategy to bear on the larger issue of universal health coverage.
Third, we will use the College's public affairs arm to get the message out through press conferences, special events, the release of special studies, and advocacy advertising. We plan to do our best to keep this issue in the forefront of public debate no matter what other issues are dominating the news cycle.
And fourth, we plan to use our extremely effective government affairs department, combined with the grassroots strength of more than 100,000 doctors, to push the access issue at every opportunity on Capitol Hill.
In closing, let me reiterate that the coming year offers a unique window of opportunity to promote the issue of universal coverage. I hope you will all join with me to pose one simple question - will we continue to mistreat 43 million of our fellow Americans? Or will we finally make the tough choices necessary to make sure everyone is assured of a basic human right -- health care.
Jack Pope, Public Affairs Director, Washington Office, 202-261-4556