Buffalo doctor who heads the AMA issues call for universal health care
By Jerry Zremski – News Washington Bureau
Updated: 09/23/08 10:01 AM
- Charles Lewis/Buffalo News file photo
- Nancy H. Nielsen of Buffalo said the number of uninsured is “a tragedy and a national disgrace and we need to do something about it.”
WASHINGTON — The Buffalo physician who heads the American Medical Association came to the capital today to reignite the debate on universal health care at a time of great sickness in the American economy.
“You may wonder why we are doing this at a time when Wall Street is tanking, but it just couldn’t be any more timely,” said Nancy H. Nielsen, the Buffalo internist who became the AMA’s president in June.
“We know the number of uninsured is 47 million in this country,” she added at a briefing on the issue at the National Press Club. “These are not people living under bridges. They are our friends, our neighbors, our acquaintances … This 47 million is not a statistic. It’s a tragedy and a national disgrace and we need to do something about it.”
Several of the panelists at the discussion agreed, noting that the number of uninsured is likely to rise if the economy goes into free-fall amid the nation’s financial crisis.
Yet the panelists also agreed that it would be difficult to get Congress to quickly solve the problem, no matter who is elected president in November.
“We don’t really have a health care system; it’s a free-for-all,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “It’s so complicated and so many people have knee-jerk reactions to it that everybody’s going to have to step back and reexamine their assumptions and pause before saying, ‘No, this won’t work.’”
Paul H. Keckley, executive director of the Doloitte Center for Health Solutions, agreed.
“It’s a perplexing problem that’s not going to be solved in four years,” Keckley said. “It took us 60 years to get here.”
And now, a new president and Congress will be forced to try to deal with the problem of the uninsured amid great uncertainty about the American financial system, which the Bush administration proposes spending $700 billion in federal funds to rescue from its bad debts.
“I think the rolls of the uninsured may have expanded recently” thanks to newly unemployed investment bankers, said Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News and World Reports, which sponsored the discussion along with the AMA.
Kelly also proposed a quick, if flip, solution to the problem of paying for insurance for those who remain uncovered.
“You could fit it into the bailout bill as a rounding error,” he said.