The Healthcare Leadership Council, a Washington-based advocacy group comprising chief executive officers of several large healthcare organizations, last week kicked off a national campaign to reduce the number of uninsured Americans.
The Health Access America campaign will feature print and broadcast advertising along with congressional and grass-roots lobbying and media briefings around the country. The council launched the campaign at a press conference in Chicago.
The council's effort comes a little late to the access game, which a number of national healthcare organizations began playing several years ago as they simultaneously began lobbying for Medicare and Medicaid payment relief. The American Hospital Association led the pack with its "Campaign for Coverage" effort in 1995 to insure 4 million uninsured people. The American Medical Association followed in December 1998 with its program, and the Catholic Health Association weighed in on the problem in April 1999, seeking to make the uninsured an issue in the 2000 elections.
The most recent attempt to reduce the number of uninsured came in November 2000 with the "strange bedfellows" campaign linking the AHA with the Health Insurance Association of America, the trade association that sponsored the "Harry and Louise" ads, and the liberal Families USA consumer organization.
The groups vowed to make access to care a national priority.
Council President Mary Grealy, who formerly worked for both the AHA and the Federation of American Hospitals, said her group's aim is to make coverage for the uninsured Congress' No. 1 priority.
Grealy said the other groups' efforts, though laudable, did not focus exclusively on legislation.
"What's left to be done?" Grealy asked. "We're trying to put a different face on the problem. The American public understands there is a problem with the uninsured. But I don't think they know who these people are. The vast majority are members of working families. They're your neighbors. This is not out of reach. It is a very solvable problem. And we have this great employer-based system already in place insuring a lot of people. We already have the tools to do this."
The council has commissioned studies on the cost of insuring the nation's uninsured, recently estimated at about 43 million, but the U.S. Census Bureau in August announced that because of a change in counting methodology, that figure has been adjusted downward to 39.3 million for 1999. The adjusted figure does not reflect a downward trend, just a more accurate tally, according to the Census Bureau.
The council is advocating a combination of tax subsidies to businesses to encourage them to offer coverage, tax credits to low-income workers to persuade them to opt for coverage, and stronger efforts to enroll already eligible adults and children in Medicaid and state children's health insurance programs.
Grealy said the council will spend from $2.5 million to $5 million during the next year to promote the five-year campaign and already has set a $1 million budget for its grass-roots program. She said the council is partnering with other organizations, such as the National Association of Health Underwriters, with an interest in the issue.
The council's membership represents a cross section of the healthcare industry, including hospitals, prescription-drug producers, pharmaceutical benefit companies, medical equipment manufacturers and insurers.