Doctors Offer Senators Their Opinion on Health Care Reform

Doctors made the rounds of Senate offices Tuesday -- not to treat lawmakers but to implore them to listen to physicians on health care reform.

"A number of us don't feel like we've had much input in this debate," one doctor said.

More than 11,000 doctors from around the country who connected on a medical Web site called Sermo signed a petition outlining several issues they think are critical parts of health reform, including tort reform, transparent billing, insurance reform and changing the payment systems to encourage preventive medicine.

The petition was delivered to the 100 Senate offices Tuesday, including that of Sen. Tom Coburn, who is also a doctor.

"I agree with you we hadn't heard from the medical community," the Republican said. "We've heard from a lobbying arm that's interested in money, not patients and not physicians."

The petition comes a day before President Obama addresses a joint session of the Congress in an attempt to rally a fractious Democratic Party and persuade Republicans to drop their opposition.

To win the support of doctors, tort reform is key. Some, such as orthopedic surgeons, can pay up to $80,000 a year in malpractice insurance. Obstetricians have it even worse. They can pay astronomical sums of more than $200,000 a year. But insurance is only half the cost.

"There's been a number of surveys which have shown that up to a third of all tests and procedures that are done aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the physician or the patient," said Dr. Daniel Palestrant. "They are done to protect both parties from liability."

Nevertheless, tort reform isn't part of any of the congressional proposals so far, including the massive one in the House.

"If we are putting everything on the table as the president says to try and improve health care, it would seem suspicious that in a 1,200-page bill, the word tort reform or malpractice isn't mentioned once," Palestrant said.

In fact, some Democrats, including former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean acknowledges the party was reluctant to cross trial lawyers because they contribute so heavily to Democratic candidates.

But some say that has to change.

"I think the time has come for the Democrats to say alright, we're going to have to take on one of our own here," said Democratic strategist Bob Beckel. "They are going to have to contribute because it is true that runaway lawsuits have caused insurance premiums to go up."

Beckel says that would be a smart political move that would give Democrats more credibility and quiet down Republicans, as he put it. He also says a lot of Democrats are thinking about such a move as a way to breathe new life in the health reform debate.

Jim Angle currently serves as chief national correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1996 as a senior White House correspondent.