Following the Health Care Debate

James J. Kelly, Ph.D., ACSW, LCSWFrom the President

Few issues dominate national headlines these days like health care reform. It is one of the Obama administration's most ambitious goals and its complexity cannot be overstated. Our distressed health care system affects social workers as providers, advocates and consumers, so our investment in a positive legislative outcome is significant.

Promoting health throughout the U.S. population has always been a priority for the social work profession. The NASW policy statement on health care pays special attention to the growing numbers of uninsured and underinsured Americans, with minorities and the poor being disproportionately affected. Our association vigorously supports a national health care policy that "ensures the right to universal access to a continuum of health and mental health care throughout all stages of the life cycle" and "results in the equitable delivery of services for all people in the United States, regardless of financial status, race, ethnicity, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation or geographic location." NASW also advocates "policies and practices requiring that mandated medical social work services be provided by qualified social workers in all health care settings."

NASW is closely watching the developments in Congress related to health care reform, and at every opportunity, we remind decision-makers of the vital importance of social workers to the delivery of health care services. Since President Obama's election, NASW has sent several comments to his transition team about health care reform in general and the role that social workers play specifically.

NASW has also participated in weekly meetings and on conference calls with Capitol Hill staff and other coalition partners to discuss this critical issue. A complete list of these partners and positions can be found in the Advocacy section of this Website.

NASW is working to ensure that components of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act are incorporated into the final health care reform legislation. We feel it is critical to include language regarding the Social Work Reinvestment Commission. The Commission would "develop long-term recommendations and strategies to maximize the ability of America's social workers to serve their clients with expertise and care" and "report to Congress the need for the recruitment and retention of, and research and reinvestment in, the social work profession."

This fall, Congress and the Obama administration will continue deliberating a variety of ways to proceed on health care reform. There are many opinions and approaches under consideration - some more politically viable than others. For example, NASW recognizes that a single-payer system is one approach to health care reform. NASW has had many meetings and conversations with the office of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who is the sponsor of H.R. 676 - one of the bills that addresses the single-payer option. Although we are generally supportive of H.R. 676, our support does not preclude NASW from advocating other legislation or viable alternatives to ensure that as many Americans as possible receive health care in the future.

Several members have contacted the national office, raising concerns and offering recommendations for the health care debate. Our advocacy listserv provides an excellent way to get involved in the discussion from the social work perspective. Participants receive frequent legislative alerts, including those addressing health care.

Another way is through our growing Health Specialty Practice Section. This year, 10 health-related teleconferences were offered on topics ranging from treatment adherence and professional grief to HIV/AIDS and hospice competencies. We value the expertise represented in all of our nine Specialty Practice Sections, but particularly the Health Section membership on the issue of health care reform.

For those interested in adding their voices to the national conversation on health care reform, I hope you choose to join more than 1,500 other social work colleagues in the NASW Health Section, or the 50,000 people registered on the NASW Advocacy listserv. Together, we can help Congress pass health care reform legislation that vastly improves America's health care system.