TV's Dr. Jon Carter speaks up in Washington about the nation's medically uninsured

By Makeba Scott Hunter and Stephen M. Silverman
Updated May 06, 2004 09:00 AM

He still may have looked like ER’s Dr. Jon Carter, but Noah Wyle told PEOPLE, “I feel like Mr. Smith goes to Washington” when he spoke at the National Press Club Wednesday as the spokesperson for the May 10-16 “Cover the Uninsured Week.”

Wyle, 32, the lone original cast member on the NBC medical drama, joins a growing chorus of celebrities who recently have visited the nation’s capital as advocates for issues close to their hearts, including Ben Affleck (about increasing the national minimum wage) and Michael Jackson (on AIDS in Africa).

“I don’t know about Mr. Affleck or Mr. Jackson, but my guess is that they volunteered for these organizations and those causes just because they felt called by their convictions to do so. That certainly was the case with me,” said Wyle, whose own issue is the plight of the 44 million people in the country who lack medical insurance.

“I am not an economist, I am not an elected official, nor am I a real doctor,” he told the assembled. “But I am a father, a husband, a union member and a concerned citizen. And I know that it’s time we solve this problem.”

Though this was only his third trip to Washington, Wyle – conservatively dressed in a gray suit, light blue shirt and navy tie – appeared at ease facing the press with heavyweight Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Virginia).

Wyle, having gone straight from his mother’s insurance to being covered by the Screen Actors Guild, admits he’s never been uninsured, but said that the issue of health care access hits close to home for him.

“I serve on the Hollywood branch of the Screen Actors Guild, which has a union membership of 100,000 people, 2 percent of which actually can support themselves solely by acting,” he said. “So with a 98 percent unemployment rating, you can imagine the level of uninsured actors.”