Uncertainty surrounding health system reform and the future of the Affordable Care Act has left many physicians with questions about how current proposals will affect them and their patients. Stakes could not be greater for patients who may again face the stark, life-or-death choices arising from the possible loss of health insurance. As a longtime member of the American Medical Association’s Board of Trustees and a former president of the association, I believe strongly in the campaign to cover the uninsured that the AMA launched in 2006 and I applaud the organization for continuing to pursue this vision in the current national health reform discussions.
After all, physicians see the problems the uninsured face firsthand. Americans without health insurance often put off seeing a physician until their health problem reaches crisis proportions, making their conditions more difficult and costly to treat. Access to affordable and meaningful coverage is a paramount element of our efforts to improve the health of our nation.
It is important to remember that the lack of insurance does not just discriminate against individuals in need of coverage — it affects each and everyone of us, whether through limited access to health care or higher health care costs. While the Affordable Care Act is not perfect and action is needed to stabilize the individual market, it did provide new coverage to 20 million Americans who were unable to secure it before. I am proud that the AMA helped achieve this goal.
Preserving those gains and moving closer to coverage for all Americans must be a guiding priority in our health reform discussions this year and in the future. As physicians, we approach this debate through the lens of our mission to work together to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health, the same mission we have appointed to the AMA. This mission is rooted in sound medical ethics and scientific evidence, as well as the longstanding policies adopted and refined over the years by the House of Medicine.
Last November, I attended the AMA House of Delegates and watched as colleagues from around the country again demonstrated their unique ability to bring together voices from across the profession to create a national physicians consensus on health system reform. The physician prescription for reform that emerged from this meeting received an overwhelming majority vote by the delegates and reaffirmed the AMA’s commitment to health system reform. This unified front and overarching approach to reform were reaffirmed when the AMA articulated nine core health care reform objectives that have proven critical to shaping the reform debate in Washington.
As physicians, we stand in a unique position to advocate for our patients to ensure that the progress already achieved in coverage gains and increased access to care are not pulled out from under their feet. There is no question there are details to work out, but physicians must have an active voice in the health reform debate to make a positive difference for our patients.
Ardis D. Hoven is a former president, American Medical Association.
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