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Obama Tries to Woo AMA

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Yesterday, President Obama addressed one of the groups most concerned with the health care reform plans: the American Medical Association. With good reason, the AMA is worried that “health care reform” will be primarily paid for through significant reductions in what physicians earn. But Obama thinks he can still win their support:

Obama drew hearty applause with a focus on the particular concerns of the medical profession: telling them any system that relies on them “to be bean-counters and paper-pushers” is out of whack and that his push to investigate best-practices and eliminate unnecessary procedures “is not about dictating what kind of care should be provided.”

“I need your help, doctors,” he said. “To most Americans, you are the health care system. The fact is, Americans — and I include myself, Michelle, and our kids in this — we just do what you tell us to do.”

If doctors are so important, shouldn’t they be fairly compensated? “Fair” is a loaded word, but I will say, in my mind, the willingness to take lives into their hands on a daily basis makes doctors quite valuable – at least valuable enough not to have their earning potential dictated by a government insurance plan which could very easily become a de facto price-control system. After all, it’d be much easier for the government plan to just set prices and game the system rather than actually making the reforms necessary to bring down costs.

All that said, Obama does have a bargaining chip with doctors: malpractice reform. Yesterday, Obama mentioned the problem of out-of-control jury settlements, but made a point of saying he’s against capping malpractice awards. The Wall Street Journal all but accused Obama of being in the pocket of trial lawyers:

The trial bar and its Democratic allies say that the threat of lawsuits promotes better care and assures accountability. But they’ve fought even modest changes that would offer liability protection if doctors adhere to evidence-based guidelines. Mr. Obama showed again with his AMA speech that he’s willing to nod at the concerns of his political opponents and take media credit for brave truth-telling, only to dump his conciliation if it offends liberal interest groups.

I think the question is: does Obama need the support of doctors in order to pass health care reform? If he ends up believing he does, I expect the president to propose some sort of malpractice reform in order to offset the losses doctors are likely to sustain under a government health care plan. But if Obama can get his reform passed without the AMA’s support, I’m sure he’ll side with the interests of the lawyers and the status quo. Unfortunately, that’s how the game is played.