Obama Urges Doctors to Back Health Care Plans

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama continues to promote his health care proposals, urging doctors gathered in Chicago to support wider insurance coverage and targeted federal spending cuts.

Obama planned to tell the American Medical Association's annual meeting in his hometown on Monday that overhaul cannot wait and that bringing down costs is the most important thing he can do to ensure the country's long-term fiscal health, a senior administration official said.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president's remarks before they were delivered.

America's doctors, like many other groups, are divided over the president's proposals to reshape the health care delivery system.

About 50 million Americans are without health insurance. The government provides coverage for the poor and elderly, but most Americans rely on private insurance, usually received through their employers. However, not all employers provide insurance and not everyone can afford to buy coverage for themselves or pay medical bills out of pocket.

The White House anticipates heavy spending to cover uninsured Americans and has taken steps in recent days to outline just where that money could be found.

For instance, Obama wants to cut federal payments to hospitals by about $200 billion and cut $313 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, the government health programs for the elderly and poor. He also is proposing a $635 billion "down payment" in tax increases and spending cuts in the health care system.

To an audience of doctors Obama plans to say the United States spends too much on health care and gets too little in return. He says the health industry is crushing businesses and families and is leading to millions of Americans losing coverage, the administration official said.

Obama's turn before the 250,000-physician group in his latest effort to persuade skeptics that his goal to provide health care to all Americans is worth the $1 trillion pricetag it is expected to run during its first decade.

The president plans to acknowledge the costs, but also will tell the doctors it is not acceptable to a nation that leaves so many without insurance, the official said.

Unified Republicans and some fiscally conservative Democrats in Congress have signaled they are nervous about how the administration plans to pay for Obama's ideas.

Obama has been speaking privately with lawmakers about his ideas and publicly with audiences, such as a town hall-style meeting last week in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the Midwest. Obama and his administration officials have blanketed the nation in support of his broad ideas, and Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday said it's up to Congress to pin down the details on how to pay for them.

"They're either going to have to agree with us, come up with an alternative or we're not going to have health care," Biden said on NBC television.

"And we're going to get health care."

In Chicago, the president's remarks are likely to focus on how his ideas might affect the medical profession.

His proposed cuts in federal payments would hit hospitals more directly than doctors, but physicians will be affected by virtually every change that Congress eventually agrees to. Many medical professionals are not yet convinced Obama's overhaul is the best for their care or their pocketbooks.

Broadly, the AMA supports a health care "reform" -- a term that changes its definition based on who is speaking -- although the specifics remain unclear.

In a statement welcoming Obama, AMA president Dr. Nancy Nielsen said the medical profession wants to "reduce unnecessary costs by focusing on quality improvements, such as developing best practices for care and improving medication reconciliation."

She also said doctors need greater protection from malpractice lawsuits and antitrust restrictions.
Many congressional Republicans, insurance groups and others oppose Obama's bid for a government-run health insurance program that would compete with private companies. On Sunday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell described a government plan as a "nonstarter."

"There are a whole lot of other things we can agree to do on a bipartisan basis that will dramatically improve our system," McConnell said.

To that end, lawmakers were considering a possible compromise that involved a cooperative program that would enjoy taxpayer support without direct governmental control. The concessions could be the smoothest way to deliver the bipartisan health care legislation the administration seeks by its self-imposed August deadline, officials said.

"There is no one-size-fits-all idea," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday on cable network CNN.

"The president has said, 'These are the kinds of goals I'm after: lowering costs, covering all Americans, higher-quality care.' And around those goals, there are lots of ways to get there."

Momentum might be on Obama's side. Aaron Carroll, an Indiana University medical professor who has surveyed doctors' views on U.S. health care delivery, said 59 percent "favor government legislation to establish national health insurance," an increase over a previous poll's finding.

He noted that many doctors are not AMA members, and therefore the association's views should not be overrated.