Doctors Favor Both Public and Private Health Insurance Options

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A survey of more than 2,100 U.S. doctors shows that the majority favor having both public and private health insurance options as part of the healthcare reform package currently being debated by lawmakers. The results of the survey were published in the online version of the New England Journal of Medicine on September 14, 2009.

To conduct the current survey, the authors obtained data on a random sample of 6,000 physicians from the American Medical Association (AMA). After excluding physicians from US territories and those in training, 4,936 remained. A total of 2,130, or 43.2 percent, returned the survey. The participants were questioned about which of three options for expanding health insurance coverage they would most strongly support.

The three choices were: (1) public and private options, which would provide people younger than 65 years of age the choice of enrolling in a new public health insurance plan or in private plans of their choosing; (2) private option only (no public option), which provides people with subsidies or tax credits if they are low income, to purchase private health insurance; or (3) a public option only, which means private health insurance would be eliminated and everyone would be covered through a single public plan like Medicare.

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The results showed that 62.9 percent of physicians supported having both public and private options, while 27.3 percent said they wanted to see private options only. The survey’s authors had divided the physicians into four broad categories - primary care, medical subspecialties, surgery, and other - and respondents were similar in their support of both public and private options. Contrary to the original position of the AMA, there was majority (62.2%) support for a public health insurance option among AMA members.

Expansion of Medicare to Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 years was also supported by a majority (58.3%) of respondents. This support was similar across all four specialty groups. The concept of allowing people younger than 65 to buy into Medicare has been proposed several times to lawmakers in the past. Based on US Census Bureau data, about four million people between ages 55 and 64 do not have health insurance, and individuals in this age group are more likely to have serious medical problems and difficulty finding affordable health insurance coverage, according to Kaiser Health News/Philadelphia Inquirer.

The apparent willingness by physicians to accept a government-run health insurance plan as part of the healthcare reform package goes against the position originally stated by the American Medical Association, which has approximately 250,000 members. However, the AMA recently noted that it supports a House proposal for healthcare reform that includes a public health insurance option.

SOURCES:

Keyhani S and Federman A. New England Journal of Medicine online version published September 14, 2009
Philadelphia Inquirer, May 4, 2009, “More for Medicare?”

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