Upstate News

February 7, 2002
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

SUNY Upstate president at forefront of national campaign to expand health coverage for all

SUNY Upstate Medical University and the nation’s other academic health centers have set themselves a challenge: to find a cure to a chronically ill health care delivery system that now counts nearly 39 million Americans (or 14 percent of the U.S. population) as being without health insurance.

“We are the envy of the world when it comes to discoveries in science and medicine and the level of medical care we provide our patients,” said Gregory L. Eastwood, M.D., president of SUNY Upstate Medical University. “But we clearly cannot boast of our prowess when our health care delivery system is in critical condition.”

As chair of the board of directors of the Association of Academic Health Centers, Eastwood is at the forefront of the organization’s initiative to ensure that more Americans have health insurance coverage and access to quality care.

The Association of Academic Health Centers, a national, non-profit organization whose membership includes more than 100 academic health centers throughout the United States and Canada, will present its initiative Feb. 12 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Specifically, the AAHC seeks to “extend coverage and access to quality health care to an additional 5 million Americans each year.” The health centers have pledged “to work on this goal with all branches of government and other stakeholders to bring the benefits of quality health care to all.”

“We want a nation in which everyone has access to high quality medical care and the newest treatment technologies and protocols,” Eastwood said. “We want a nation where financial insecurity is not a byproduct of illness and where the health care community can better emphasize disease prevention.”

The only way this vision can be realized, Eastwood contends, is through affordable coverage for all.

Most uninsured individuals today are from underrepresented populations: 35 percent are Hispanic, 23 percent are black compared to only 13 percent of whites without insurance coverage.

“There is no equality in health care coverage today in the United States. This must be addressed and remedied,” he said.

Another major concern for Eastwood and his colleagues is that uninsured people get less medical care than those who are insured. In one survey, 39 percent of those who said they skipped a recommended test or treatment were uninsured compared to 13 percent who were insured. Of those who said they did not fill a prescription, almost one-third (30 percent) were uninsured compared to 12 percent who were insured. Of those who needed medical care for a serious problem but did not did not get it, 20 percent were uninsured compared to 3 percent who were insured.

“The link between not having coverage and receiving less medical care could not be clearer,” said Eastwood. “The lack of health insurance coverage for these individuals puts them at a greater risk for a disease. For example, statistics show us that the uninsured are more likely to be diagnosed with late versus early stage cancer.”

Eastwood said that AAHC and other health care organizations will reach out over the next year to lawmakers and other policymakers offering assistance and expertise in crafting an approach to address the crisis of the uninsured. “Not only do we want to increase awareness of this problem, we want to help solve it,” Eastwood said.

Every option should be on the table, Eastwood said, from revising tax policy to expanding state and federal programs to broaden coverage. AAHC also wants to look at ways to make it more affordable for businesses to offer employees health coverage.

“We have a national crisis on our hands when it comes to the number of people without health insurance,” Eastwood said. “So let’s be in agreement that this issue demands our attention now.”

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