The time is ripe to develop a national dialogue on the growing number of Americans who lack medical insurance.
Granted, it's a thorny problem that won't be resolved soon. But that's no reason to allow the situation to fester.
There are several reasons to hope that some headway can be made on this issue.
First, the Bush administration is in the process of forming its health agenda, making this an ideal time to put the issue of the uninsured on the radar screen.
This is not a topic to which the incoming administration gave much priority during the election campaign. Therefore, if President Bush moves on any healthcare issue, it is likely to be expanding availability of drugs for seniors or perhaps patient rights legislation.
But with an estimated 43 million Americans--or approximately one of every 6.5--lacking health coverage, the plight of the uninsured is overdue for attention. And, during the campaign, Bush did discuss a plan that centers on tax credits to encourage expanded coverage.
Second, several healthcare organizations have shown a willingness to energize the effort. Both the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine have proposed creating a plan to cover uniform basic benefit levels for all Americans.
With gridlock and partisan wrangling plaguing Washington, solving the problem of the uninsured won't be easy. But the window of opportunity exists to intensify the coalition-building in an effort to move the process along.
Both the AMA and the American Hospital Association have been working with insurers and other outside groups. The AMA is formally revising its principles of medical ethics to support the importance of making healthcare accessible to all. The AMA also is working on a proposal that includes tax credits for the uninsured and full enrollment of those who are eligible for Medicaid.
The AHA appeared to recognize the need to think outside the box when it joined forces with liberal consumer advocates Families USA and the more traditional Health Insurance Association of America to propose a plan involving expansion of Medicaid and creating tax incentives for employers.
With the slowing economy threatening to push more Americans into the ranks of the uninsured, the demand for Congress to take action may grow. The chance to help those who need help the most is an opportunity medical executives should not miss.