"It's easy to forget the uninsured if you're not one of them," said APA's Executive Director for Public Interest Henry Tomes, PhD, at a May 1 congressional briefing in support of universal health care.
In fact, said Tomes, "the problem of devising legislation to extend coverage to the 44 million uninsured Americans can seem daunting and best put off for another day," but, he underscored, it cannot.
The briefing was standing room only. With more than a dozen members of Congress present, Tomes and other speakers, including health-care professionals and an uninsured father and daughter, addressed problems regarding access to the current health-care system and the need for changes.
Tomes also called for boosting mental health coverage, citing the December 1999 Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, which finds that mental disorders collectively account for more than 15 percent of the overall burden of disease from all causes.
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, along with the Physicians' Working Group on Single-Payer National Health Insurance, endorsed an overhaul of America's health care to expand and improve Medicare, covering all Americans. Members of Congress offered proposals to affordably implement universal health care.
A specific concern, Tomes said, should be the health of ethnic and racial communities, which include many of the nation's uninsured. "Reduced access to quality, affordable and culturally competent health-care services, delayed diagnosis of disorder or disease, and socioeconomic status are critical factors" that affect these communities, he said.
Tomes highlighted two legislative proposals regarding the uninsured. One, "Working American Families Access to Health Care Act of 2001," provides coverage without durational restriction for mental health and substance abuse treatment services. Another, a proposal of the Families USA and the Health Insurance Association of America, expands "public programs and offers tax credits to businesses that pay a larger share of the premiums for low-wage workers than for other employees."
Psychologists' work this year on improving access to clinically necessary services through advocacy of a strong patients' bill of rights will focus on health plan legal accountability, Tomes noted. "A strong bill would not exclude mental injury, as did some alternatives, and would not cap non-economic damages, which would seriously disadvantage children and stay-at-home mothers, who typically have low economic damages."
"Be wary of those who urge Congress to address the needs of the uninsured while at the same time oppose passage of a strong patients' bill of rights," Tomes warned.
The event was hosted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Universal Health Care Task Force.