KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

For Doctors In Congress, Little Harmony On Health Care

"In the struggle to overhaul the nation's health care system, 16 physicians have ended up in ringside seats - as members of the House and Senate. But they have taken different lessons from their experiences in medicine, and they do not agree on what a bill should look like," The New York Times reports. "Of the doctors elected to Congress, 11 are Republicans and 5 are Democrats. Two serve in the Senate and 14 in the House, 7 of whom are on the three committees preparing a health care bill." Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wis., an allergist, recalls patients who were too poor to fill prescriptions and says that a public plan could provide a possible solution. Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., had also "dealt with patients who could not afford medicine at his family practice," yet he "remains hesitant about a public plan."

"Republican members of Congress who practiced medicine, united under the banner of the G.O.P. Doctors Caucus, oppose a public plan." Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, an obstetrician, says "'interference from both insurance companies and the federal government have really worn down the practicing physician.' Dr. Burgess is open to tax credits or deductions that would help patients manage their own health care. He strongly favors a health savings account that would allow individuals to put away money tax free for medical care." Rep. John Fleming, R-La., a family doctor, agrees. He remembers "uninsured diabetic patients who sought medical care - in the emergency room - only when they developed gangrene and sepsis," but says that insuring those patients under a public plan is not the solution. "He has seen physicians refuse to take Medicare patients because it compensates poorly, and he fears that doctors would turn away patients on a public plan if it offered inadequate compensation."

Of his fellow physicians in Congress, Dr. Fleming says "'We seem to agree on everything. … We agree on the fact that we need portability; we need to do away with pre-existing illnesses.' But when it comes to a public plan, he said, doctors cannot seem to agree any more than other members of Congress" (Fuller, 7/11).

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