While the Catholic Health Association isn't giving up its ultimate wish to see health insurance for every American, it's decided to set a more modest target for the next three years.
In an exclusive interview with Modern Healthcare, the Rev. Michael Place, the CHA's president and chief executive officer, said the association and its 634 member hospitals will focus on cutting the number of uninsured Americans by 15%, as one of eight goals in the CHA's plan for the next three years. The goals also include increasing the favorability rating of Catholic hospitals, which Place said suffer from a perception that they care only for the poor and are behind in use of technology.
The CHA will work especially closely on the initiative with the American Hospital Association, Place said.
"That goal is picked in the hope that by working with others, in the areas of legislation and regulation, we could have a real dent in the number of uninsured in this country," Place said.
Estimates of that number vary, but an analysis using figures from the 2000 Census projected that 38.4 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2000, according to the Urban Institute and the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.
Working together is not new for the associations. The executive committees of CHA and AHA have discussed more ways to cooperate in the past few years since they share many members, Place said, and cooperation on the uninsured issue is seen as "a new level of sophistication" in those discussions. The CHA is holding its annual meeting this week in Chicago, where members will elect new officers and members of the association's board of trustees.
AHA President Richard Davidson confirmed the two groups are working together, and said their staffs are already creating a draft proposal of legislation that would reduce the number of uninsured. The idea will be to look at different segments of the uninsured population and to craft different approaches for each of them, Place said.
Hospital executives "expect us at the national association level to make sure that we are coordinating our activities," Davidson said. "They want to make sure they are getting value for their dollars."
The two hospital associations also will join several other powerful lobbies in promoting the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's "Cover the Uninsured Week" next spring, Place said. The groups-which have been characterized as "strange bedfellows"-include the AARP; AFL-CIO; American Medical Association; American Nurses Association; Families USA, a liberal consumer organization; Federation of American Hospitals; Health Insurance Association of America; and Service Employees International Union.
"It's destined to become a major political discussion," Davidson said.
The AHA and CHA previously made a big push to address the uninsured three years ago, ostensibly to make it an issue in the 2000 presidential campaign, but also at the same time that hospital and physician groups were lobbying for Medicare reimbursement increases (May 31, 1999, p. 3). No specific bill was ever proposed by the two associations, although they, as part of a previous effort with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, tried to add more money for the uninsured to the 2000 budget law, which included provider give-backs.
The effort comes as 41 states are trying to restrict their Medicaid spending in their 2003 fiscal years because of budget pressures, the Kaiser Commission said in a new study issued last week. The study also found 18 states plan to tighten eligibility requirements for beneficiaries, and 28 states are cutting or freezing reimbursements to at least some providers.
The CHA's members have committed to drum up grass-roots support for the initiative, Place said. Catholic hospital executives and board members are expected to speak to local newspaper editorial boards about the uninsured and encourage their friends to bring up the issue with elected officials, he said. Hospital newsletters and marketing materials also will highlight the issue.
And the CHA will continue to lobby Congress and state legislatures on reducing the number of uninsured, Place said. In particular, the lobbying efforts will focus on expanding programs to insure children, women and immigrants who have been denied coverage because of the 1996 welfare reform law, he said.