Health Care Access Now A Priority

May 28, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Helping to improve access to care is at the top of the agenda for Michigan State Medical Society’s new president, who says physicians are in a unique position to see firsthand the problems associated with the growing number of people who are uninsured.

John MacKeigan, M.D., a Grand Rapids colon and rectal surgeon in practice with Michigan Medical PC, wants the 14,500-member medical society to take on a greater, more vocal role in the public debate over access issues, particularly at a time when more and more people and employers are experiencing difficulty affording health coverage.

A failure of access is a failure of our society. A failure of access reflects on all of us, and on our profession,” MacKeigan told his colleagues during his installment last month to a one-year term as Michigan State Medical Society president.

“Improving access is the right thing to do for our society. Only we can speak about the consequences of limited access for patients and the hidden cost to the system — and to you and to me,” he said.

In Michigan, an estimated 857,000 people between the ages of 18 and 64 years old, or 13.8 percent of the population in that age group, are without health coverage, according to data The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released last month. About 531,000 of those individuals are working adults.

Foundation researchers report that nearly one out of five persons without health coverage in Michigan reported an inability to get needed medical care in the prior 12 months, nearly 44 percent do not have a regular physician or health-care provider, and 20 percent gauged their health as “fair” or “poor.”

That compares with national averages of 19 percent of those uninsured reporting an inability to access care, 56 percent lacking a physician or health-care provider, and 21 percent saying their health is fair or poor.

Citing roles physicians have played in shaping public debates on other issues, such as medical malpractice reform and patient safety and quality, MacKeigan said the state medical society needs to become more engaged in addressing inequities in access to care. Physicians, he said, can provide a balance between the interests of patients, government, industry and insurance providers.

At no time has our voice been more needed. At no time has our voice been more respected,” MacKeigan said. “We need to be engaged as a profession. Engagement is going beyond survival — going beyond the usual job description. Engagement is more than just getting by. The public is wanting and needs our voice and our engagement.”

In his address at the state medical society’s annual meeting, MacKeigan said he was not advocating national government-run health insurance. Physicians instead should push for some form of hybrid model where industry, individuals and the public sector all share responsibility and the benefits of universal access.

“We need to help build the new model. We must engage in the public debate, if not be the actual conveners of that debate in Michigan,” MacKeigan said.

Nationally, an estimated 44 million people are without health coverage. At least 20 million working adults are uninsured, according to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation data release last month in conjunction with the “Cover the Uninsured Week.”    

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