Doctors' Group Wants Insurance for All

American College of Physicians Asks Candidates to Back Universal Health Coverage

By Todd Zwillich
WebMD Medical News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The nation’s biggest organization of specialty doctors called on presidential candidates Thursday to back health insurance coverage for all Americans.

Saying the U.S. health care system is “failing,” the American College of Physicians (ACP) threw its support behind universal insurance coverage. It’s also asking candidates for Congress in November to pledge to pursue new laws guaranteeing access to health care.

Health reform is registering near the top of voters’ concerns so far in the presidential primaries, according to polls by the Commonwealth Fund and Kaiser Family Foundation think tanks. But past attempts to guarantee coverage have consistently been dashed against a resistant Congress, often due in large part to opposition from doctors’ groups worried about government takeovers of health care.

“We’ve tried and failed [in] every administration since Truman,” Bob Doherty, ACP’s chief lobbyist, told reporters. The group represents specialty internists and primary care doctors.

But Doherty said rapidly rising health costs are pushing politicians toward reform more strongly than before. The U.S. Census Bureau says 47 million Americans lack health coverage in 2005, a number that hangs over health reform debates in the election.

“A new president and Congress may have no choice” but to back reforms, Doherty said.
Candidates’ Pledge

The ACP asked candidates to pledge support for these efforts:

* Laws guaranteeing everyone has access to affordable health coverage. Coverage should be without regard to their place of employment, place of residence within the U.S., or income.
* Provide every person with access to a primary care physician.
* Increased public investment in health information technologies (HIT) including electronic medical records.
* Reduced administrative expenses, including curbs on malpractice lawsuits.
* Increased funding for research.

A report published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine, an ACP journal, details how the U.S. lags behind other industrialized countries in areas ranging from infant mortality to per-capita costs.

“We’re last among the industrialized countries of the world in terms of providing access to health care,” says David Dale, MD, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and president of the ACP.

The group said it would not endorse any candidate or party. But Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is the only candidate still in the race who advocates universal coverage as a primary policy goal. Clinton’s plans calls for a mixture of reforms compelling employers and individuals to purchase coverage.

All of the Republican candidates have called for deregulation of the insurance industry and, in some cases, tax breaks that could help families and individuals purchase their own coverage.

The health plan of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., mandates coverage for children and would open up government-backed private coverage to the uninsured. But the plan does not require individuals to have coverage.
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