Follow Your Doctor's Advice

Last week, as President Obama explained health care reform was "a core ethical and moral obligation," America's physicians said his proposed reforms would challenge the ethical and moral obligations embedded in their professional standards.

In a poll commissioned by the American Society of Medical Doctors, 70 percent of specialty physicians who responded said they opposed current Congressional and White House proposals for health care reform. And 66 percent of those doctors said a government-run health insurance plan would restrict doctors'ability to give the best advice and offer the best care possible to their patients.

Physicians have also begun citing their Hippocratic oath when expressing opposition to current health care reform proposals. This creates an interesting juxtaposition to the president's call for what he sees as a moral obligation. For physicians, their ethics are deeply grounded in that oath and anything that interferes with the oath interferes with their moral obligations to their patients.
They are not to be taken lightly; their understanding of moral issues in the practice of medicine is highly developed. Furthermore, their support and involvement in any reform effort is crucial for its success.

Consider this: specialty physicians' view of government-run health insurance is so strong that they would rather reject patients carrying that insurance than attempt to treat them through a bureaucratic barrier. In the ASMD poll, more than 60 percent said they would not accept new patients with government insurance. More than a quarter (27 percent) said they would not accept any patients on the new government plan -- that's new OR existing patients.

These numbers also highlight the other side of what the president has said about "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor." You actually can't keep your doctor if he/she won't see you anymore. And if you're one of the people who gets stuck with government insurance, that could very well end up being the case.

Furthermore, if you are looking for a new doctor -- say, a specialist like an ophthalmologist, dermatologist, OBGYN or orthopedist -- and you have that government insurance, well, your pool of choices could be reduced by 60 percent. If you live in a rural area with limited choices to begin with, you might be really stuck.

How is that a moral victory for anyone?

It is clear that America's doctors overwhelmingly believe that the health care reform proposals being pushed by Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration violate their most fundamental principle: first, do no harm.

If Congress and the president want to hear informed, moral opinions on health care, they'd do well to listen to doctors.

Jean Card is a freelance writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.