Three members of Maryland's congressional delegation have applauded the American Medical Association's call this week for reform of the nation's health-care system and basic health insurance for all Americans.
But two of the lawmakers wondered why it has taken the AMA so long to do so.
"The fact that the AMA is calling for the federal government to get involved in this now is very significant and bodes well for a potential new universal health-care plan," Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, said last night. "In the past, the AMA has balked when the federal government tried to mess with any health-related programs.
"After what happened with catastrophic insurance, the federal government is going to be very careful with this. And, then there is the all important matter of cost. That could be a real problem. We can no longer count on the general fund."
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, said he, too, was happy to see that the AMA has joined a growing number of groups that understand major changes need to be made in the country's health-care system.
"The bottom line is that we need to provide universal access, to control costs and maintain quality," Cardin said. "The way to accomplish that . . .is to have all the principal players working constructively toward that change."
"Traditionally, the AMA has been very slow to change," he said. "As you know, they opposed the Medicare system way back in the 1960s. They've been difficult to deal with when major change has been involved. I might tell you that I think the degree of support from groups that back change will weaken as soon as we start talking specifics."
Asked to explain, Cardin said, "When you get to cost containment, there are only certain ways you can cut costs. But, when you get right down to it the area that will be looked upon is the amount that the system pays for certain types of medical procedures. And, that's always been a matter of controversy with the AMA. With other providers and interest groups, there may be other problems.
"So, it's going to be difficult. It will be a major undertaking but it is, at least, nice to know that the AMA does recognize that a radical change is needed. That is a major acknowledgment by the AMA, and quite frankly, it's coming at an earlier time in the process than it did with the Medicare Act in the 1960s."
The stand by the AMA is laudable and noteworthy but is about 20 years overdue, according to Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th.
"I agree with the premise of their newfound position that there ought to be a national debate and that we have the wherewithal to come up with solutions to the problem," he said. "But, I believe more than anything else now that the AMA is at this point, that it needs to do all it can and join the rest of us who have been arguing for a long time that we've got over 30 million people who are uninsured in terms of health care in this nation.
"When we were leading the fight for catastrophic health care, I don't recall the AMA standing beside members of Congress during that period," Mfume said.
"And, when there was an effort to repeal it, which was successful the following year, I don't remember the AMA leading the charge to keep the repeal from happening."
Mfume said he is hoping that health care becomes an issue before this current session of the Congress, warning that some "very real problems" will be involved.
"Cost becomes the most serious obstacle to providing the health-care system and that's why devising a formula whereby the fiscal impact is minimized is extremely important," he said.
Mfume believes that all parties should participate in the ongoing debate "so that whatever we come up with has the blessing of everyone who has a concern, whether it's the physicians, the clinics, the people most affected -- those who do not have insurance -- and obviously the administration and members of the Congress."
On Monday in Washington, the AMA held a news conference to publicize today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association which is devoted to articles that describe different ways to bring about reform of the health care system. The suggestions including expanding Medicare and employer plans and setting up a Canadian-style system in which the government is the only insurer.
"It is no longer acceptable morally, ethically or economically" for 33 to 37 million citizens to be uninsured or underinsured, said Dr. George D. Lundberg, editor of the AMA journal.
Most of the uninsured and underinsured are members of minority groups, he added.