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AMA launches health insurance ad campaign

The association pitches its plan -- using tax credits or vouchers to help buy coverage -- to voters and candidates.

August 24, 2007|Claudia Lauer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The American Medical Assn., seeking to influence the healthcare debate in the 2008 election, kicked off a three-year, multimillion-dollar ad campaign at a news conference Thursday to promote its plan to provide health coverage for the estimated 45 million people in America who lack insurance.

"There's a misconception about who the uninsured are," said Dr. Nancy H. Nielsen, the AMA's president-elect. "One in seven people are uninsured . . . [and] 82% of those who lack health insurance are in a family where someone earns a paycheck."

The "Voice for the Uninsured" campaign is timed to the presidential election cycle and is aimed at voters and White House candidates.

The AMA, which represents about 250,000 physicians, proposes the use of tax credits or vouchers to help people buy health insurance.

It also supports increasing federal funding for such government programs as the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The organization does not endorse candidates or contribute to presidential campaigns. It is encouraging the White House contenders of both parties to commit to healthcare agendas that incorporate its ideas, rather than a government-run, single-buyer system.

Nielsen said the AMA would direct $5 million this year to advertising in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, all key early-primary states, and in the nation's capital. "We all have a voice and a vote. Please vote with this issue in mind," says one of the television ads.

"These early states are going to be the first people to cast their vote for who goes to office next year," Nielsen said. "We want to make sure when voters go into the voting booths . . . they will keep the issue of the uninsured in their minds."

The campaign will feature radio, television and print advertisements, along with billboards, prescription bags at pharmacies and placards on mass transit. AMA representatives had a presence at the Iowa State Fair this month, talking to several Democratic candidates about the plan.

The second stage of the AMA's effort will take the advertising campaign to the rest of the country in 2008, in advance of the presidential election.

The third stage will lobby Congress and push for legislation to offer a solid plan by the end of 2009.

Dr. Samantha L. Rosman, an AMA board member who ran a clinic for the uninsured while in medical school, said the current campaign had some key differences from earlier ones.

Those previous efforts raised awareness of the issue, she said, adding: "This campaign will translate that concern into action."

Nielsen, the incoming AMA president, said she had been uninsured while in graduate school. After one of her children went to the emergency room, she said, she couldn't afford food for the rest of the month.

"If this can happen to me," Nielsen said, "it can happen to anyone."

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claudia.lauer@latimes.com

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