Dr. Louis Sullivan, the HHS secretary under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993, said Friday during a visit to Anniston that despite its flaws, the Affordable Care Act will benefit millions of uninsured, low-income Americans. Sullivan visited Anniston to tour the Sarrell Dental Center to learn how the facility provides affordable care to low-income children.
Sullivan is CEO and chairman of the Sullivan Alliance, a nonprofit that works to improve health care for low-income and minority Americans. Anniston-based Sarrell Dental has 15 clinics across the state and serves children on Medicaid.
"I'm for the Affordable Care Act – it's an imperfect build and has a number of things that need to be addressed, but rather than working to try to dismantle it, we should work to improve it," Sullivan said.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health policy analyst organization, more than 47 million Americans were uninsured last year. Sullivan said that when he became the HHS secretary, there were around 37 million uninsured Americans.
"That's 10 million more, that's too many," Sullivan said. "We need to work to address that."
Sullivan said health care should not be a partisan issue, noting that aspects of the ACA, including the insurance exchange, were part of a health reform plan Bush supported 20 years ago. The insurance exchange will offer affordable health coverage to mainly uninsured Americans starting in January. President Barack Obama has faced Republican criticism in the last two months due to technical glitches that have slowed down online enrollment in the exchange.
Sullivan said Bush introduced the similar health reform plan in 1992, but it did not get far in Congress, which was controlled by Democrats at the time.
"The plan had the similar concept of the health insurance exchange, but now the Republican Party is attacking the same concept," Sullivan said. "I'm not for that kind of political one-upmanship."
According to press accounts from 1992, under the Bush plan, low-income Americans not covered by Medicaid would have received tax credits to help pay for insurance. The ACA insurance exchange also offers tax credits to offset insurance costs. Press accounts also noted that other Republicans supported the plan, but it had little chance of becoming law since Democrats controlled Congress and favored more ambitious approaches to health care reform.
Sullivan said that while the ACA has had some hiccups, that does not mean it is fundamentally flawed and should be scrapped.
"Our health system is too large and complex to have one bill to get it all correct and right from the start," Sullivan said. "We need to work with it and adjust it."
Along with fixing the technical glitches, the Obama administration should try harder to educate the public and the private sector about the ACA and discuss other ways to improve it with Congress, Sullivan said.
Regarding the Sarrell Dental Center, the program appears to be a viable model for helping low-income patients, Sullivan said.
"I've been impressed by the quality of people here, the facilities and the modern equipment," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Sarrell's model could and should be repeated throughout the country.
"There are so many children who are poor that are not getting these services," he said. "That shouldn't be."
Jeff Parker, CEO of Sarrell Dental, said he was honored that Sullivan had visited the Anniston facility.
"He took the time out of his busy schedule," Parker said. "That shows his commitment to health care in this country."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.