Wednesday, June 14, 2006

AMA Takes Step Toward Backing Universal Health Care

The American Medical Association (AMA) -- which has fought universal health care tooth and nail for the better part of the last century -- ratified a proposal endorsing mandatory health insurance for individuals at its annual meeting yesterday.

The AMA is a group that represents physicians across the country, although it is less powerful today than 50 years ago due to the rise in medical specialties. Many docs today are opting to participate in groups that focus on their area of expertise rather than the more general AMA.

Nevertheless, the AMA support for the expansion of health care insurance is a significant boon for advocates of universal care.

In the words of Dr. Jack Lewin, who is the executive VP for the California chapter of the AMA: "The AMA just took a huge step toward supporting universal health care for all Americans. Historically, the AMA has supported voluntary approaches, but never a mandate."

The details of the proposal are to require individuals making at least $49,000 or families making at least $100,000 to have health insurance either through an employer or privately -- if they don't, they would face tax penalties. Any person or family making less than those amounts would qualify for tax credits and subsidies that would help them pay for health insurance if they don't get it through another means such as employment.

I actually don't support a plan such as this (which is similar to what was done in Massachusetts) because it mandates health coverage while doing nothing to decrease the actual cost of health care. My fear is that under a system like this -- similar to the use of stand-alone Health Savings Accounts -- the end result will amount to little more than shifting costs from employers to employees. As I've said before, employees are in no better position (and arguably a worse one) than employers to handle the rising costs of health care.

In spite of my opposition to the specific proposal, it's still a major step in the right direction to have the AMA start down a path toward supporting universal health care.

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