CHICAGO (AP) — America's largest group of doctors ended their annual meeting Wednesday by signaling they won't close the door on President Barack Obama's proposal to create a public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers.
While the Obama administration would have preferred a strong endorsement, the vote by American Medical Association doctors is a victory of sorts for the White House and the group will continue to be a player in the president's health care reform efforts.
"They're going to be at the table," said Paul Ginsburg, president of the Washington-based Center for Studying Health System Change.
The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for all its citizens, and Obama campaigned on a promise to offer affordable health care to all Americans. But the recession and a deepening budget deficit have made it difficult to win support for costly new programs.
Still, the president maintains that overhauling health care is vital to the country's long-term economic recovery, and his trip to Chicago earlier this week shows how much he values the doctors' support.
The AMA is known to be a conservative bunch and has clashed with previous administrations' attempts to shape health policy. Its membership has been dwindling for years, down to about one-fourth of the nation's physicians, but it remains a visible lobbying presence in Washington.
The group acted Wednesday in its typically cautious fashion on the health care reform effort, heeding concerns of its most conservative members while indicating it wants to be a team player and work with Obama. But critics say it missed a chance to go bolder and signal clear support for the public plan concept.
"The AMA did not close doors. The AMA said we will evaluate all proposals in light of our principles," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, the AMA's immediate past president.
Nielsen, whose term ended Tuesday night, urged the more than 400 policy-making delegates before the vote to avoid language that could be interpreted as an endorsement of any public plan.
Delegates followed her advice and declared support for "health reform alternatives that are consistent with AMA principles," which include freedom to choose health insurance and universal access for patients.
Some doctors at this week's meeting wanted the group to oppose any public insurance proposal. They likened the concept to communism, putting government in charge of health care and forcing doctors and patients into plans. Some said it would only lead to a single-payer system that the AMA has long opposed. And others who think doctors aren't paid enough under two existing public programs, Medicare and Medicaid, worried a new public plan would be no better.
But Obama has said a public option would simply provide coverage for those without other insurance. And his speech on Monday converted some skeptics.
"If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period," Obama said to applause.
About 50 million of America's 300 million people are without health insurance. The government provides coverage for the poor and elderly, but most Americans rely on private insurance, usually received through their employers. However, not all employers provide insurance and not everyone can afford to buy it on their own. With unemployment rising, many Americans are losing their health insurance when they lose their jobs.
Obama has proposed a system that would include government and private insurers.
Some in the crowd of more than 2,000 mostly doctors booed when Obama said he doesn't support caps on how much money patients harmed by doctors can seek in medical malpractice lawsuits. But the audience was largely receptive during his nearly hour-long speech.
On the Net:
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
|< Prev||Next >|