Surrounded by doctors from around the country, President Obama pushed his health care reform efforts in the White House Rose Garden today, saying that the physicians in attendance "understand that their jobs would be a lot easier if we finally reformed our system of health insurance."
The president covered well-trod ground in his address, pressing the importance of cutting costs, ending unfair insurance practices and eliminating paperwork and red tape. From the White House's perspective, perhaps more important than the familiar words were the attendees: Doctors pointedly decked out in white lab coats.
The unmistakable message of the event was that all sorts of doctors – those from "red states, blue states, recalcitrant states, high-cost states, low-cost states, rural and urban states," as Mr. Obama said – are on board with the president's plan. The gathering of doctors from around the country appeared designed to feed local newspaper reports about how a particular doctor from a particular community backs reform efforts, as well as television news images.
The White House said the group "Doctors for America," which advocates health care reform, distributed the labs coats to the doctors.
"At this point, we've heard all the arguments on both sides of the aisle," the president said. "We have listened to every charge and every counter-charge, from the crazy claims about death panels to misleading warnings about a government takeover of our health care system."
"But when you cut through all the noise and all the distractions that are out there, I think what's most telling is that some of the people who are most supportive of reform are the very medical professionals who know the health care system best: the doctors and nurses of America," he argued.
Countering the claims of Republican critics, Mr. Obama said that "these men and women here would not be supporting health insurance reform if they really believed that it would lead to government bureaucrats making decisions that are best left to doctors."
"They wouldn't be here today if they believed that reform in any way would damage the very critical and sacred doctor-patient relationship," he added.
5364098It should be noted that there is not currently a health care bill for these doctors to support – though, as the president pointed out, general principles have been established.
They include establishing laws against insurance companies denying coverage because of preexisting conditions or dropping or watering down coverage when someone gets sick; a ban on caps on insurance benefits; limits on out-of-pocket costs; mandated coverage of routine checkups and preventive care; a move to digitize medical records; and the creation of "a new insurance exchange, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for an affordable health insurance plan that works for them."
Shortly after the event, the Republican National Committee emailed reporters a Wall Street Journal editorial from three former presidents of the American Medical Association in which they complained that by inviting only supporters to the event Mr. Obama "missed an opportunity to learn more about the real issues facing patients and doctors and to formulate a plan that truly puts patients in control with doctors as trusted advisers."
"One easy reform would be to enable individuals to buy policies offered in any state, not just where they live," they write. "This will enhance competition. But more government-run health insurance will only lead to disaster."
The president closed his remarks with a blunt appeal to the doctors to push his reform efforts.
"You are the people who know the system best," he said. "You are the experts. Nobody has more credibility with the American people on this issue than you do. And so if you're willing to speak out strongly on behalf of the things you care about and what you see each and every day as you're serving patients all across the country, I'm confident we are going to get health reform passed this year."
The White House said there were 150 doctors present at the event, from all 50 states. Four doctors stood behind the president as he made his remarks.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to approve its bill this week. It will then be reconciled with the more liberal bill put forth by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. At the same time, the House will work to put together a final version of its bill. Follow the progress here.
CBSNews.com Special Report: Health Care