Academic Medical Centers Lobby for More Coverage for the Uninsured
Twenty-nine members of the Association of Academic Health Centers, a coalition of 100 academic health centers, have begun lobbying for an expansion of government health insurance programs to cover the 40 million uninsured in the United States, the Baltimore Sun reports. During a press conference in Baltimore yesterday, Dr. David Ramsay, the president of the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus and a former AAHC president, called the rising number of uninsured a "national disgrace." He said, "If we don't take action now, this problem is going to get worse and worse, particularly in an economic downturn." The Sun reports that AAHC hopes to decrease the number of uninsured people by five million per year. The academic health centers plan to lobby for "incremental changes" that would "slowly" expand public health programs instead of initiatives such as implementing a universal health care system. For example, AAHC supports legislation (S 1244) by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) that would expand the CHIP program to cover parents of enrolled children. In addition, AAHC is lobbying state and federal governments to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates. The incremental approach is part of AAHC's effort to "avoid a backlash" from business groups, the Sun reports. However, some health experts, such as Peter Beilenson, Baltimore's public health commissioner, questioned whether the group's "more gradual approach" can work. Beilenson said, "A lot of people talk about incrementalism, but remember that since Clinton brought this problem up 10 years ago, there have been lots of incremental changes, and despite the booming economy of the late 1990s, the number of insured decreased. We need a comprehensive approach to solving the problem." Last year Beilenson helped launch a campaign that seeks to implement universal health insurance in Maryland. As part of its campaign, AAHC has planned other national news conferences and events this winter (Pelton, Baltimore Sun, 1/15).