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Obama To Doctors: "I Need Your Help"

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Controlling the spiraling cost of health care in America will be essential to implementing effective health care reform, President Obama told the American Medical Association today, "and in order to do that," he said, "we're going to need the help of the AMA."

At the AMA's annual meeting in Chicago, the president said real reform will mean curbing costs and closing cost disparities across the country, changing incentives for doctors and encouraging best practices -- as well as ensuring every American can get coverage they can afford by offering a government-sponsored insurance option. (Read the president's full remarks here.)

"But my signature on a bill is not enough. I need your help, doctors," Mr. Obama said. "To most Americans, you are the health care system. Americans – me included – just do what you recommend. That is why I will listen to you and work with you to pursue reform that works for you. And together, if we take all these steps, we can bring spending down, bring quality up, and save hundreds of billions of dollars on health care costs while making our health care system work better for patients and doctors alike."

The president delivered his remarks days after the AMA expressed its opposition to the most liberal proposals for a government-sponsored health care option, or "public plan." The group said it is against any public plan that would require physicians to participate in it, or that would pay the same rates as Medicare -- a program the AMA considers broken. They are willing to accept less robust options, however.

"The AMA is willing to consider other variations of a public plan that are currently under discussion in Congress," AMA President Nancy Nielsen said in a statement. "This includes a federally chartered co-op health plan or a level playing field option for all plans. The AMA is working to achieve meaningful health reform this year and is ready to stand behind legislation that includes coverage options that work for patients and physicians."

The president acknowledged concerns about the public option, including physicians' worries that the application of Medicare rates in the plan would mean cost savings would come at their expense -- or less pay for doctors.

"These are legitimate concerns, but ones, I believe, that can be overcome," he said, adding that there "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."

He added that doctors will be reimbursed "in a thoughtful way tied to patient outcomes" instead of negotiations based on politics and state budgets.

"The alternative is a world where health care costs grow at an unsustainable rate," Mr. Obama said. "If you don't think that's going to threaten your resimbursements and the stability of our health care system, you haven't been paying attention."

Other critiques of the public plan, he said, are not legitimate, such as the claim "a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system."

"When you hear the naysayers claim that I'm trying to bring about government-run health care, know this – they are not telling the truth," Mr. Obama said.

The president won huge applause from the audience of doctors when he said that his reforms could be undermined by the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits, since doctors may feel compelled to order inefficient and unnecessary treatments so they are less legally vulnerable.

"Don't get too excited yet," he said to their cheers. "I'm not advocating caps on malpractice awards, which I personally believe can be unfair to people who've been wrongfully harmed."

Mr. Obama said the government and the medical industry should explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, how to let doctors focus on practicing medicine, and how to encourage broader use of evidence-based guidelines.

"I want to work with the AMA so we can scale back the excessive defensive medicine reinforcing our current system," he said.

Watch President Obama's Remarks To The American Medical Association.

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