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Despite differences, Obama and medical community vow reform

Many doctors want to see caps on medical malpractice awards – something the president did not endorse in his healthcare speech on Monday.

By Correspondent / June 15, 2009

President Obama speaks about his healthcare reforms at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in Chicago Monday.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters



President Obama said he knew he was addressing a skeptical audience at the American Medical Association Monday, which is why he made a point to connect the issue of healthcare reform to the rebuilding of the nation’s troubled economy.

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“If we do not fix our healthcare system, America may go the way of [General Motors]: paying more, getting less, and going broke,” Mr. Obama said in Chicago. His keynote address at the AMA's annual meeting not only offered a broad-brush outline of his plans to curtail spiraling healthcare spending, but also addressed critics far and wide who suggest the president is advocating a single-payer system.

“When you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run healthcare, know this: They are not telling the truth,” Obama said.

The audience of doctors Monday was certainly not hostile, showering Obama with applause whenever he spoke up for patient healthcare and against the bureaucracy of the current system. But some issues Obama stressed stung, particularly his unwillingness to cap malpractice awards. In the end, the doctors and the AMA, always a major player in any healthcare reform debate, proved to be wary about jumping on his bandwagon in the absence of greater detail about his plan.

Back in Washington, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday that one of the reform bills under consideration in Congress would cost the government an estimated $1 trillion over the next decade and reduce the ranks of the uninsured by about one-third, or 16 million individuals. Obama has vowed that the overhaul will not add to the deficit and, so far, has proposed nearly $1 trillion in savings through spending cuts and tax increases to finance it.

Physicians in the audience seemed familiar with most of Obama's reform proposals. Many knew of his plan to bundle healthcare services, which would charge patients for overall care, not necessarily for individual visits. They were, for the most part, aware that he wants to allow consumers to choose the level care they can afford.

During the one-hour speech, Obama received generous applause when he mentioned his aim is to free up doctors from the cumbersome business of dealing with insurance companies, and to avoid changes that make doctors “feel like they are constantly looking over their shoulder for fear of lawsuits.”

But the president received some jeers over his unwillingness to cap malpractice awards, saying such limits “can be unfair to people who’ve been wrongfully harmed.”