CHICAGO, Illinois — Physicians and President Barack Obama don’t see eye-to-eye on all the ways being proposed to solve the nation’s health care ills.
But that didn’t stop doctors at the American Medical Association’s annual meeting from applauding the president and Congress simply for “trying to address the problems,” Dr. Roy Thomas, president of the Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA), said in a brief statement about the president’s 12:15 p.m. speech.
“The physicians of the United States are very excited to be included in this set of discussions and to be included in helping shape the direction of health system reform,” Thomas told reporters on a conference call following the president’s speech.
Thomas said he appreciated Obama’s candor about the issues on which doctors and he don’t agree. For instance, Obama and other leading Democrats have proposed government-backed health insurance that would compete with private insurance in a “health insurance exchange,”
“This exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that’s best for you and your family — just as federal employees can do, from a postal worker to a Member of Congress,” according to the text of Obama’s speech posted by USA Today.
“You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package,” Obama said in the speech. “And one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market so that force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest.”
OSMA’s Thomas said physicians — and many Americans — aren’t sure what a government-back health insurance option would like like. “Most physicians favor strengthening and regulating the current private system of health insurance … rather than creating a new government program such as Medicare or Medicaid ,” he said.
“If it’s a dramatic expansion of either Medicare or Medicaid, or if it’s a brand-new government program of that kind, that would be a significant concern to us,” Thomas said while answering reporters’ questions.
And while most physicians “recognize that both of those systems, which we’ve had a lot of experience with, are underfunded,” Thomas said, Obama repeated his pledge to cut an additional $313 billion out of Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years. “The AMA agrees that there are efficiencies that can be achieved by changing the Medicare system and health care in general, and those efficiencies can be achieved without doing harm either to physicians or to patients,” Thomas said.
“We support the idea of a mandate that each individual have insurance. And again, that might mean that people who cannot afford it might have to be subsidized to some degree or completely,” he said. Costs would go down if everybody were part of the system.
How would costs go down? ”Well, for one thing, if everyone is in the system and has access to private markets, then we believe that will increase competition. We also believe that other opportunities for cost savings include things like health information technology,” Thomas said.
“The president has been advocating that we move in a dramatic way toward improving those kinds of [information] systems … we agree that those kinds of technological investments will probably pay off in the long run.”
Physicians gave Obama their heartiest applause for acknowledging that the nation’s medical malpractice system is broken and must be fixed, according to a Wall Street Journal Health blog entry. Even the medical association blogged about the speech.
Though congressional leaders likely will propose taxing some or all employer-paid health care benefits, Obama is shying away from that option because he made a campaign promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. Most physicians, however, think that taxing employer-provided health benefits is a good thing, Thomas said.
People who get health benefits from employers pay no tax on the benefit but everybody else does, he said. “It seems that it would be fair to have everyone pay that tax, and that would also produce a great amount of revenue in taxes,” Thomas said.