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Professional News
AMA Campaigns for Tax Credits to Bring Coverage to the Uninsured
Psychiatric News
Volume 42 Number 18 page 1-23

The AMA launched a multimillion-dollar media campaign in August to promote its proposals to provide health insurance to the record number of uninsured Americans.

The AMA campaign, called "Voices for the Uninsured," is spending $5 million initially to coincide with the 2008 U.S. presidential election. It involves newspaper, television, and radio ads that will run in early-primary states including Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The campaign will go national next year and will include lobbying Congress to pass comprehensive insurance legislation.

The campaign was announced the week before the latest census figures showed the number of uninsured Americans rose 2.2 million in 2006 to 47 million. The Current Population Survey found that 15.8 percent of Americans lacked coverage last year, up from 15.3 percent in 2005. The increase equaled 1998 as the year with the highest percentage of uninsured people over the last two decades.

The impact on children was trouble-some as well, according to data from t U.S. Census Bureau, which found t 11.7 percent of U.S. citizens under age 18 had no health insurance in 2006, up from 10.9 percent in the previous year. The percentage of uninsured children has increased two years in a row after declining for at least five years, according to the census data.

"It is unconscionable that the number of uninsured children has substantially increased over the past year," said AMA Board member Joseph Heyman, M.D., in a written statement. "Children are our future, and for kids to get a good start in life, they need access to regular visits to the doctor."

The AMA's insurance campaign supports tax credits for the purchase of health insurance and for increasing federal funds to expand government health programs such as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid. Both houses of Congress have passed SCHIP expansions but President Bush has threatened to veto both versions because of their cost (Psychiatric News, September 7).

The AMA insurance proposal was created with several other groups as part of an alliance called the Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured, which includes AARP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

However, AMA leaders said the 250,000-member organization could support other approaches.

"If [elected officials] don't like our plan, then let's meet and come up with a common plan," said Nancy Nielsen, M.D., AMA president-elect, during an August press conference.

Nielsen said part of the campaign aims to educate the public and political candidates that people without insurance are not just among the ranks of those who are homeless or unemployed. As many as 82 percent of people without health insurance are in working families.

The AMA doesn't endorse candidates for president but is urging presidential hopefuls to incorporate its proposals into their health care platforms.

"We want candidates to make a commitment to reducing the number of uninsured," Nielsen said.

Although APA has not endorsed the AMA plan specifically, APA President Carolyn Robinowitz, M.D., said that the Association does support any effort that will increase Americans' access to health care, including treatment for mental illness. Many uninsured Americans end up using emergency rooms as their main source of medical care, Robinowitz told Psychiatric News, which means they are unlikely to receive preventive care and early interventions that avoid further suffering and save money that will have to be spent on acute care.

"Even the business community has realized the long-term benefits from wide access to quality health care," Robinowitz said, citing business groups' recent support for Senate mental health parity legislation that their earlier opposition had stalled.

More information on the AMA's "Voice for the Uninsured" campaign is posted at<www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/17712.html>.

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