KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Asking Doctors To Back Health Reform

President Obama plans to tell the American Medical Association gathering for its annual meeting Monday that health care reform can't wait and bringing down cost will ensure America's financial health, The Associated Press reports.

Obama also will ask the AMA to consider supporting wider insurance coverage and spending cuts. In all, "Obama wants to cut federal payments to hospitals by about $200 billion and cut $313 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. He also is proposing a $635 billion 'down payment' in tax increases and spending cuts in the health care system."

Obama will acknowledge to the 250,000-physician group the $1 trillion plan but will also say it is unacceptable to have so many Americans without health insurance. "His proposed cuts in federal payments would hit hospitals more directly than doctors, but physicians will be affected by virtually every change that Congress eventually agrees to. Many medical professionals are not yet convinced Obama's overhaul is the best for their care or their pocketbooks. Broadly, the AMA supports a health care 'reform' - a term that changes its definition based on who is speaking - although the specifics remain unclear."

Republicans in the meantime continue their derision of a government public plan proposal: "On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., described a government plan as a 'nonstarter.' 'There are a whole lot of other things we can agree to do on a bipartisan basis that will dramatically improve our system,' he said" (Babington, 6/15).

Reuters: Obama will "'lay out his vision for a system that replicates best practices, incentivizes excellence and closes cost disparities -- and he'll ask for our medical professionals' help in getting the job done,' an administration official said."

The president of the AMA also released a statement on Obama's visit: "'Health reform that covers the uninsured is AMA's top priority this year,' AMA President Nancy Nielsen said in a statement. 'Every American deserves affordable, high-quality healthcare coverage'" (Alexander, 6/15).

Politico: "Given its historic resistance to major reform efforts, the AMA would be a tough crowd under normal circumstances. But in pushing the public plan, Obama is looking to persuade a constituency already distrustful of the government's role in health care that a government insurance program won't be as objectionable as they imagine" (Brown, 6/15).

The speech comes the same week as the Senate Finance Committee is due to release its bill on health care reform. The Chicago Sun-Times: "The Obama White House is ramping up a push for Congress to complete work on legislation that could cover the nation's uninsured and at the same time control health care costs. The Chicago-based AMA, meeting at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, while not rejecting a government run plan outright, is more focused on driving down the cost of private insurance and other alternatives Congress is mulling, such as some type of government-backed co-op care coverage" (Sweet, 6/15).

Bloomberg has more details on Obama's speech: "In speaking to the AMA, Obama is making his pitch directly to a constituency whose support he will need to get his proposal passed. One of the points he plans to make is that revamping the system won't upend existing coverage if patients are happy with it, according to the official. He also plans to reiterate his stance that the high cost of medical care in the U.S. doesn't always result in the best care, the official said" (Johnston 6/15).

NPR's Morning Edition reports that while the AMA currently represents "only about one-third of physicians, if that," the organization still has clout when it comes to health reform (Rovner, 6/15).

Obama is also considering limiting medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors, The New York Times reports. "In closed-door talks, Mr. Obama has been making the case that reducing malpractice lawsuits - a goal of many doctors and Republicans - can help drive down health care costs, and should be considered as part of any health care overhaul, according to lawmakers of both parties, as well as AMA officials."

Obama - who has not endorsed capping malpractice monetary awards - will refer to the lawsuit limitations during his AMA speech, but he won't offer specifics on getting it done. Democrats have shown little interest in that portion of the bill, and at least one Republican said that Obama expected support for reform in exchange for limiting malpractice lawsuits. "It is a position that could hurt Mr. Obama with the left wing of his party and with trial lawyers who are major donors to Democratic campaigns. But one Democrat close to the president said Mr. Obama, who wants health legislation to have broad support, views addressing medical liability issues as a 'credibility builder' - in effect, a bargaining chip that might keep doctors and, more important, Republicans, at the negotiating table."

Some groups may push back against the idea, The New York Times reports, and Obama has acknowledged himself that the idea might not simple (Stolberg and Pear, 6/15).

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