Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a nonprofit organization of 23,000 doctors who support Medicare for All reform, last week called on the American Hospital Association (AHA) to divest its membership in the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PFAHCF), a dark-money lobbying group that spends millions fighting against reforms that would lead to universal health coverage.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched hospitals’ resources to the limit, and the AHA should not waste precious member hospitals’ funds lobbying against universal health coverage,” said PNHP President Dr. Adam Gaffney, who is also a pulmonary and critical care physician.
The PFAHCF is a dark-money group founded by health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, two industries whose profits are most threatened by a single-payer Medicare for All system.
The PFAHCF spends millions of dollars each year running ads against Medicare for All and other reforms such as a public option.
Last summer, the group bought half of all political advertising in Iowa, and spent a total of $1.2 million on anti-reform ads ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Several medical associations were also early members of the PFAHCF, including the AHA and the American Medical Association (AMA), the largest physician membership organization in the U.S.
In August 2019, the AMA left the PFAHCF after pressure from physicians and other health advocates who protested at the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago. Other medical professional groups, including the American College of Radiology, have recently quit their membership in the PFAHCF under pressure from health professionals. Remaining provider groups include the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, and the The Virginia Orthopaedic Society.
PNHP had planned a protest outside the AHA’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in late April.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the doctors’ group has taken its campaign online, with tactics such as a petition and letter-writing campaign directed at AHA officials.
The letter-writing campaign caught the attention of Rev. Richard Ellerbrake, who is President Emeritus of Deaconess Health System in St. Louis, Mo.
When he learned that the AHA was a member of PFAHCF, Rev. Ellerbrake wrote to AHA board members that, “During my 30 years as COO/CEO of Deaconess Health System, it often seemed to me that the AHA was ahead of the American Medical Association (AMA) on many important issues of the day. Today I would hope the AHA would follow the example of the AMA and discontinue supporting the PFAHCF,” a reference to the decision by the AMA to leave the PFAHCF in August of 2019.
Gaffney said that as millions of Americans lose both their jobs and their health coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for Medicare for All is more urgent than ever before.
“As physicians, we can no longer tolerate a health system that puts profits ahead of patients and public health. It’s time for health professionals to hold accountable the organizations that claim to represent us,” Gaffney said.
Gaffney said that a Medicare for All program such as H.R. 1384, the Medicare for All Act of 2019, would provide a lifeline to struggling hospitals in rural and other underserved areas that serve an increasing number of uninsured patients. He notes that a single-payer system would fund hospitals through annual global budgets that are based on community health needs, not corporate profits.
“The AHA cannot claim to represent hospitals while also opposing a single-payer system that would keep struggling hospitals open,” said Gaffney. “The AHA should immediately leave the PFAHCF, and redirect that money to supporting patients and frontline health care workers.”