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Public Health Insurance Divides AMA

AMA and public health insurance

A public health insurance option has become the center debate among members of the American Medical Association. The AMA announced last week it was opposed to any plan for government-run health insurance involved in President Obama's health care reform efforts. Individual members were divided on the issue at the group's annual meeting this week in Chicago.

The AMA will vote today on a resolution stating opposition to any public health insurance plan that will "risk the elimination of a healthy competitive market for private health insurance." Yesterday the group's former President, Dr. Nancy Nielsen, encouraged the group to be part of the change to health care and to not risk alienating the group. Nielson and others expressed worry the media will cast the AMA as "naysayers" if the resolution passes.

J. James Rohack, MD, the new AMA President and former President of the Texas Medical Association also seemed to discourage the group's opposition to a government-run plan. Dr. Rohack quoted to the group the AMA's ninth principle of its Code of Medical Ethics which states “a physician shall support access to medical care for all people.”. Ironically, it was Texas delegates voicing some of the strongest opposition to government intervention in health insurance.

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Dr. Rohack addressed the group saying they must be adaptable to the changing environment and open for change. Dr. Nielson and others stressed the group should focus more on patient care than defending the health insurance industry. In a reply-editorial last week to the New York Times Dr. Nielson expressed the AMA's readiness to work with President Obama and Congress on health care reform.

Nielson's reply to the New York Times came a day after a report the paper published indicating the AMA's opposition to a public option plan. Robert Pear reported on statements issued by the AMA to members of Congress stating their worry that a public health insurance plan would drive private insurers out of business and hamper competition. The AMA's comments noted that some 70% of Americans currently receive their insurance from private companies.

Some members of the AMA were unhappy with President Obama's address to the group earlier this week. Tort reform is key in the minds of many physicians to bringing down health care costs. With rising malpractice rates, the practice of defensive medicine is contributing to skyrocketing health insurance costs.

The divide among AMA members as to what approach is needed is evident. Some members worry a public health insurance option will only increase bureaucracy and take away form their practicing of medicine. Others in the group side with public health advocates claiming a government-managed health insurance option will help lower costs. The AMA will hold its vote on the resolution later today in Chicago.