A South Carolina pediatrician is about to jump into the deep end in the health care reform debate.
Dr. Marion Burton will be installed next week as president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, one of the nation's largest and most influential physician groups. For the next three years - one as president-elect, one as president, one as immediate past president - Burton will have an important voice in the health care debate.
The associate dean for clinical affairs and director of community pediatrics at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Burton won election with a platform that stressed the academy's role in advocating for the health of children during the law-making process.
"That will be Job One," Burton said Tuesday. "The main job for the leadership of the academy is to make sure children are taken care of in health care reform.
"Between 7 and 9 million children don't have health insurance. We want to make sure as many of them as possible are covered."
Burton expects to make plenty of trips to Washington during the next three years. Academy leaders often are asked to testify before Congressional committees.
While some reform bills could pass this year, Burton expects much work will remain in the next three years, including possibly fixing problems in early legislation. He looks forward to his role.
"I'll be in the thick of it in October 2010," he said. "I'll be in the real hot seat."
Dr. Richard Hoppmann, dean of the USC School of Medicine, said Burton is a great choice for the position.
"Throughout his career in medicine, Dr. Burton has been an advocate for children and their parents," Hoppmann said. "It comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked with him that he will lead the American Academy of Pediatrics."
Burton, 64, has been preparing for this role all his life. A native of Abbeville, he earned his undergraduate degree from Clemson before heading to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. After 20 years as a pediatrician in Anderson, he was lured to USC's School of Medicine to establish a division of community pediatrics.
"It was time to broaden my perspective in my profession," explained Burton, who also is the medical director of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
His involvement in the national academy grew through the years, with multiple committee roles. Then last year, one of 10 regional committees nominated him for the president's race. The original field of 10 candidates was narrowed to two, who then campaigned to win over the 40,000-plus voting members of the academy.
In addition to health care reform, Burton also stressed the need for improved technology, equitable pay from insurance companies, and Medicaid for pediatric care, equitable medical care for all children, and the need to draw attention to the importance of the pediatric profession.
He was "humbled and honored" when he received the phone call telling him he had won.
"The next three years are going to be very interesting," Burton said.