AMA joins the battle with a campaign for the uninsured

AMA Leader Commentary. By Edward L. Langston, MD

A message to all physicians from Edward L. Langston, MD, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees.

The American Medical Association recently announced a three-year national communications program to underscore the plight of those among us without health insurance. Pointing out that “One in seven is 45 million too many,” the new campaign provides a voice for the uninsured, building awareness at a critical time in our nation’s history, the months leading up to the 2008 general elections.

The AMA campaign will focus the attention of the nation’s voters and candidates on one issue that affects all Americans; one issue that is the top domestic concern of voters; one issue that the AMA is going to try to make sure is the top domestic concern of the candidates.

Americans know that there are millions of uninsured. Physicians know firsthand that the uninsured live sicker and die younger. This campaign is not about telling people what they already know. This campaign is about making sure candidates take action. This campaign is about the AMA using its political might and patient trust to do what we do best — care for patients. For details, visit the campaign’s Web site (www.voicefortheuninsured.org).

This is not simply an “issue” — it is a national tragedy. An economic tragedy. An emotional tragedy. A tragedy the uninsured confront alone virtually every day, until their treatable conditions become chronic — then acute. That’s not how health care should be provided.

The political season has begun. The seemingly endless rhetoric on the air and in the press, even in motion pictures, fills the bandwidth with random ideas and largely unsupported claims about solutions to the problem of 45 million uninsured Americans.

Because the AMA is the voice for evidence-based medicine, it is appropriate that the AMA have an evidence-based plan for unsnarling the issue of the uninsured. After more than a decade of research and analysis, the AMA’s reform proposals make sense of an otherwise confusing set of circumstances.

Now, the AMA is a nonpartisan organization that aggressively advocates in Washington every day for America’s patients and physicians. In the next 14 months, we’ll be on the campaign trail, not with any one candidate but with all of them, with patients and community leaders such as you.

We believe the AMA is in a unique position to ensure that the candidates listen and address the issue. Every day in millions upon millions of ways, America’s doctors touch the lives of all Americans. Those with health insurance and those without.

America’s physicians not only know their health histories, their symptoms and the procedures we’ve prescribed for their care. We know them as individual men, women and children.

For the doctors of America, caring goes well beyond an office visit, a prescription pad and a periodic checkup. Our ethics and our concern for our fellow Americans go well beyond bedside manner.

As a result, we can and should take the lead in informing every American and every potential political leader, educating them about our concern and our plan to ease the burden. Briefly, it involves three C’s:

Cash. Each person can purchase his or her own health insurance coverage, and it would be portable, with assistance for those who need it inversely related to income.

Choice. Patients could choose their own doctors, their own hospitals and the coverage they want and can afford.

Change. The AMA is working to change the environment and eliminate insurance company interference and regulatory/legislative meddling that impacts our ability to provide care. The AMA is working to make sure that the environment in which physicians practice optimizes the care our patients need and deserve.

We will share our plan with the candidates. We will ask voters to demand that the candidates present their plans.

That way, when voters go into the booths in November 2008, they will not wonder, “Where does my candidate stand on the issues?” They can go into the voting booth knowing that they are voting for a candidate who has a well-thought-out plan to help America’s uninsured.

And, from now through November 2008, the AMA will stand right beside you and your patients in doing all we can to speak out on behalf of the uninsured and of a rational solution to a problem America can no longer afford to ignore.

Dr. Langston is a family physician in private practice in Lafayette, Ind. Learn more about Dr. Langston at the AMA’s bio page or contact him by e-mail.
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