Obama to doctors: Let’s work together on reform

By addressing the American Medical Association Monday, Obama is trying to woo a group that was central to defeating healthcare reform 16 years ago.

By , Staff writer

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    President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the healthcare system at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in Chicago Monday.
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President Obama pledged to the nation’s largest physicians organization Monday that he would work with them in his effort to enact comprehensive healthcare reform.

By going to Chicago to address the American Medical Association (AMA) meeting – the first US president to speak to the organization in 26 years – Obama sought to cut through years of tension between the government and healthcare providers.

The AMA was one of the key groups that helped defeat healthcare reform 16 years ago.

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In his address, the president stressed that he does not aim to impose bureaucracy on physicians.

“I will listen to you and work with you to pursue reform that works for you,” Mr. Obama said to sustained applause.

Much has been made of the AMA’s opposition to Obama’s proposal for a so-called “public option” – a new government-run insurance plan designed to compete with private insurers and bring down costs. Obama took on AMA concerns about the public-insurance option head on. He said doctors will be reimbursed at the rates currently paid for services under Medicare, the public healthcare system for senior citizens.

The AMA has warned that doctors will go out of business if forced to take Medicare-level reimbursements.

“I understand that you are concerned that today’s Medicare rates will be applied broadly in a way that means our cost savings are coming off your backs,” Obama said. “These are legitimate concerns, but ones, I believe, that can be overcome."

"As I stated earlier, the reforms we propose are to reward best practices, focus on patient care, not the current piece-work reimbursement," he added. "What we seek is more stability and a healthcare system on a sound financial footing.”

What is not legitimate is concern that “a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system,” Obama added, referring to a fully government-run healthcare 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,” he said.

Glaring in its absence from Obama’s remarks was discussion of how he would pay for reform.

But his biggest concern seemed to be in extending a friendly hand to a group that could contribute to the downfall of reform. Obama pointed out that the AMA has already played a role in trying to bring down the growth rate in healthcare costs, a key goal of reform. The AMA is one of the groups that has pledged to reduce the growth by 1.5 percent annually over the next 10 years, at a savings of $2 trillion.

Last Thursday, The New York Times published an article that depicted the AMA as opposed to a public insurance option, raising the specter of another full-on effort to defeat healthcare reform. But the president of AMA, Nancy Nielsen, put out a statement seeking to clarify the AMA’s position.

“The AMA opposes any public plan that forces physicians to participate, expands the fiscally-challenged Medicare program, or pays Medicare rates, but the AMA is willing to consider other variations of a public plan that are currently under discussion in Congress,” Dr. Nielsen said.

One possible alternative is a proposal for nonprofit insurance cooperatives, in which individuals and small businesses can purchase health insurance. These cooperatives would be run by their members, not the government.

Obama continues his push for healthcare reform next week when he hosts a televised primetime event at the White House. On Wednesday, June 24, at 10 p.m. Eastern time, ABC News will bring in an audience of citizens who will ask the president questions about health reform.

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