Published July 22, 2009
As President Obama pushes for passage of his first major domestic policy change, some physicians are waging an all-out war against a health care reform bill they say amounts to nothing more than socialized medicine.
America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 would create a public health insurance alternative and require coverage for most Americans and from most employers.
The American Medical Association -- the nation's largest physician organization with nearly 250,000 members -- initially opposed the president's plan, but backed the House Democrats' version of the bill last week. That has led to an internal dispute that has resulted in some physicians leaving the nation's largest doctors' association.
Some doctors charge the bill will lead to inferior patient care as physician offices around the country triple their patient lists and become forced to ration care.
"This is war," Dr. George Watson, a Kansas physician and president-elect of the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, told FOXNews.com Thursday. "This is a bureaucratic boondoggle to grab control of health care. Everything that has been proposed in the 1,018 page bill will contribute to the ruination of medicine."
But congressional leaders like Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. -- who is a psychiatrist -- say the physicians' argument is baseless and phrases like "socialized medicine" are used as a scare tactic to undermine the president's plan.
"The doctors who have responded this way exhibit a serious case of doctor greed," McDermott told FOXNews.com. "They have lost sight of the common good and the pledge they took in the Hippocratic Oath."
"These people are practicing fear without a license and they should be subject to a malpractice suit. If things are so good, why are doctors buried under an ever-increasing mountain of paperwork from insurance companies?" McDermott asked.
Watson said the president's reform bill is loaded with rules and regulations that will ultimately result in shoddy patient care and long waiting lines. He blasted the bill as "insidious" by forcing doctors contracted with Medicare into the nationalized plan -- a "trap" he described as "involuntary servitude."
The AMA -- which has long opposed government health care intervention, including the Clinton's administration's attempt to revamp the system in 1994 -- issued a statement calling the House version of the bill "a solid start to achieving health reform this year that makes a positive difference for patients and physicians."
"The status quo is unacceptable," president Dr. J. James Rohack said in July 18 video statement posted on the AMA Web site. Rohack praised the legislation for providing health coverage for 97 percent of Americans, and said the president's plain will "eliminate coverage denials based on preexisting condition" and "repeal the fatally flawed Medicare physician payment formula."
Still, Rohack said, "the debate is far from over," adding that the AMA will have a hand in drafting the final legislation, including a push for medical liability reform.
Some physicians charge the AMA is putting its business interests above the most critical issue at stake: patient care.
"The AMA is not representing patients or doctors anymore," Arizona physician Dr. Elizabeth Lee Vliet told FOX News. "Eighty-five percent of their revenue comes from non-membership sources. They are in the business of medicine."
While most doctors support some form of health care reform, a growing number are blasting the president's proposal and calling for a dramatically different approach -- one that calls for a system that pays for quality rather than quantity of medical procedures available to patients.
"There's no need to rush a bill through Congress," said Dr. Donald J. Palmisano, a leading surgeon and former president of the AMA who heads the physicians group Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights. "We don't get praise for getting out of the operation room quickly. We get praise for doing the right thing for the patients," he said.
Palmisano said he opposes the president's plan because patients will no longer be able to properly contract with their doctors. He is proposing a patient-centered system that will allow the patient to own the policy, which he said could be achieved by using tax credits to buy insurance.
"The government takeover of the practice of medicine will destroy the private health insurance companies, and will result in rationing, long lines, and loss of access to physicians in the patient hour of need," he said.
The Mayo Clinic, a non-profit organization and internationally renowned medical practice group, took issue with patient care quality that will result if the president's bill becomes law:
"Although there are some positive provisions in the current House Tri-Committee bill -- including insurance for all and payment reform demonstration projects -- the proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients."
"In fact, it will do the opposite," the clinic said in a July 16 statement on its Web site.
But Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., a family physician, called the claim that expanding health coverage to the uninsured will lead to poor quality "one of the most ridiculous criticisms I have ever heard."
Opponents of the bill also charge that it will deter prospective doctors from pursuing a medical degree -- adding to preexisting concerns over the current number of doctors.
While the number of doctors available to see patients has been steadily declining, the House committees on on Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Education and Labor have included a provision that immediately expands primary care and nurse training programs to increase the size of the workforce.
The measures include strengthening grant programs for primary care training institutions and bolstering existing preventive medicine programs. The bill also calls for improving existing student loan, scholarship and loan repayment programs in an effort to increase the number of health care professionals.