Many Americans are holding their breaths in anticipation of the consequences of a full or partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as Obamacare. The most vulnerable — elderly and sick — may see a substantial spike in health care insurance rates.
No doubt that Americans are concerned about maintaining existing and/or acquiring affordable health care.
While legislators, think tanks, researchers and community groups are talking about what to do next, the National Medical Association (NMA), based in Washington, D.C., the largest and oldest national organization representing African-American physicians and their patients in the United States, is ready for the challenge to fight against the ACA repeal.
At the helm of the NMA, is the newly elected president, Dr. Richard Allen Williams, a trailblazer in the medical profession and one of the nation’s leading experts on health care disparities. Williams is not one to back down from an opportunity to fight against health disparities.
“My vision for the NMA is to ensure our patients as well as the doctors who are NMA members are protected by health care coverage,” said Williams who is the 117th president of the NMA. “We have an uphill battle with the change of Obamacare wherein 20 million could be jeopardized and become vulnerable to health issues and diseases.”
The NMA, established in 1895, has a long history of working to close the health disparities gap.
“In 1965, the NMA participated in a persuasion campaign for President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass Medicare and Medicaid,” Williams said. “The American Medical Association, led at that time by AMA President Edward Annis, aggressively opposed the passage of the 1965 bill. In 2010, the AMA, under the leadership of President Cecil B. Wilson, disagreed about the Affordable Care Act.”
Today, the AMA, helmed by Dr. Andrew W. Gurman, supports the nomination of Dr. Tom Price as the first physician to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 1989. The mission of the department is to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans.
“Under my leadership, the NMA plans to oppose the appointment of Dr. Price to head [Health and Human Services] and try to convince that the attempt to repeal ACA will be destructive to African Americans and the entire population who are the most vulnerable, which can result in an increase in death and illnesses,” Williams said. According to the Urban Institute, the repeal of the ACA would cause the number of uninsured people to rise 103 percent to 58.7 million in 2019, with 12.9 million fewer people with Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage.
Williams provided further insight to his 2017 plan of action by stating, “To get the attention of and offer resources to the new administration, the NMA is in the process of collaborating with other medical groups such as the National Hispanic Medical Association, led by Dr. Elena Rios.” That organization represents 50,000 licensed Hispanic physicians in the United States.
“We are stronger together to work together for a common benefit to improve the health of our population,” Williams said. The NMA scientific organization represents the interests of more than 50,000 African American physicians and the patients they serve; however, its principles, goals, initiatives and philosophy encompass all ethnic groups.
Williams’ path of educational excellence and breaking new ground in the medical profession exemplifies the change he can accomplish with like-minded groups against all odds.
“Upon my appointment, one of the first steps I took to fight against health disparities was to begin working with the Congressional Black Caucus in collaboration with other medical organizations in September 2016,” he said. “Our efforts will continue through meetings with Congress members to convince them not to repeal any portion of the ACA.”
Williams, the youngest of eight children, graduated from Harvard University with honors as the first African-American student from his native state of Delaware. He earned his medical degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, performed his internship at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, internal medicine residency at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, and cardiology fellowship at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The road was not paved with other medical professionals that looked like him, so he found a solution. While serving as an instructor in cardiology at Harvard Medical School, Williams founded and directed the Central Recruitment Council of Boston Hospitals, which recruited significant numbers of black medical trainees to Boston hospitals for the first time in their history.
Leaving the East Coast, Williams accepted the position as the inaugural assistant medical director at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in Watts, and was charged with the responsibility of opening the hospital. Dr. David Satcher, who later became the 16th surgeon general of the United States, and Williams collaborated on writing a $2.5 million grant proposal which was awarded from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
The funding was used to establish the King-Drew Sickle Cell Center. Williams was named the director.
Following this appointment, Williams took a position as chief of the heart station and coronary care unit at the West Los Angeles VA Hospital, eventually becoming head of cardiology and the first Black full professor in the history of the Department of Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine.
Williams founded the Association of Black Cardiologists in 1974 and served as its president for 10 years and later became the first chairman of the Board of Directors. In 1980, the association established the endowed Dr. Richard Allen Williams Scholarship for black medical students.
The Minority Health Institute was founded by Williams in 1987 and he serves as the president and CEO. Recently, he served as president of the Charles R. Drew Medical Society in Los Angeles, and was previously a member of the Board of Directors of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.
Williams’ lifelong accomplishments are the foundation on which he stands to continue to be a champion for quality and affordable healthcare for the population and especially African Americans.
As the Obama administration now comes to an end, the NMA renews its support of the ACA which successfully:
• Prohibits denials based on pre-existing medical conditions for 52 million people.
• Expanded Medicaid programs in 32 states (16 Republican governors) and the District of Columbia.
• Requires equity in medical coverage for women.
• Allows children up to age 26 to be covered on their parents’ insurance.
• Prevents lifetime limits on insurance coverage payments.
• And allows coverage of 11.5 million ACA marketplace enrollees nationally (6.3 million in Republican congressional districts).
“We want to hear the voices of the public to understand their concerns and interests so that we can effectively address it and take it to Congress,” Williams said.
On March 24-26 in Los Angeles, the NMA is hosting the National Colloquium on African American Health. Its theme is “The Health of the Black Family.” Williams says, “We are emphasizing solidarity with the public and encourage everyone’s participation.”
Under the new presidential administration, there is a promise for a better plan at a lower cost to cover all Americans. With watchdogs such as the NMA, political leaders, and other organizations, their pressure may force the new administration to keep its promise to the people.
“The NMA will continue to be involved and be concerned,” Williams said. “Health care disparities are not new, starting with slavery. We now have to double down on the efforts made through the ACA to eliminate health disparities.”
National Medical Association – www.nmanet.org/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – www.hhs.gov
Healthcare.gov – www.healthcare.gov
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for her column on page 5 in The Wave.