Many Doctors Fear Gov't Takeover of Health Care

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Thousands of doctors across the country, including members of prestigious medical organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the American Medical Association, are speaking out against President Obama's healthcare reform bill.

The Mayo Clinic, world-renowned for its excellence in medicine, unanimously called the current plan bad for America. The united voice of the Clinic's doctors is significant. Many of America's best doctors practice medicine there.

But their voice is not the only one within the physician community.

Malpractice Caps

With more than 900,000 doctors from coast to coast, it is reasonable that there are as many different opinions among doctors about the best prescription for America's ailing healthcare system.

Many doctors say healthcare costs are high in large part because of the growing burden of their need to practice defensive medicine. That's the practice of doctors ordering expensive and sometimes unnecessary tests, referrals, procedures, and treatments because they fear malpractice lawsuits if they don't.

They say they could stop this waste of time and money if the government would limit the money patients can receive when they sue their doctor.

But President Obama doesn't support that idea.

"I want to be honest with you, I'm not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who've been wrongfully harmed," Obama told physicians at the AMA's annual meeting in June. The AMA is the country's largest and most influential medical organization. About a quarter of America's physicians are members of the organization.

That statement garnered boos, jeers, then nervous laughter from the doctors.

Instead of malpractice caps, the president advocated his plan for a government insurance option, an idea the AMA came out flatly against at first. However, the group has since softened its stance.

"That doesn't mean we oppose it. It means we would like to talk about perhaps other options," outgoing AMA President Dr. Nancy Neilsen said.

The AMA is careful not to alienate themselves from Washington insiders, thus getting shut-out of the negotiating process. Whereas months ago, the AMA rejected any government option, they are now warming to the idea of a government insurance option as an extension of the one offered to Congress, not an extension of Medicare.

Healthcare Reform: A Government Takeover?

Still, many doctors fear a government option will turn into a government takeover. They reason that not-for-profit government insurance will be priced so low, employers will be faced with a situation where it's much cheaper for them to insure their employees through a government-run plan. Such a situation will transfer their employees from private insurance to government insurance.

Many doctors dislike Medicare and have profound concerns about the expansion of the government-run insurance currently offered for seniors becoming available to the general public.

"Medicare reimbursement is now so low, any physician will tell you, seeing a Medicare patient, if you count the overhead, in terms of seeing the patient, will cost a physician between $5 and $10," Dr. Frank Rosenbloom, an Oregon family physician, said.

Doctors also fear government-run insurance will lead to decreased quality and longer waits from both the influx of millions of non-insured patients into an already bulging system, and because of plain overuse.

"When you have people who are responsible for very little of their own healthcare cost, they tend to over-utilize medical care. That's what we're seeing with the entitlement mentality," Rosenbloom said.

Not All Oppose 

It's important to note that with nearly a million physicians nationwide, not all doctors oppose government-run healthcare.

Baltimore pediatrician Dr. Margaret Flowers is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program. Flowers favors single-payer health care run by the government and cutting out competition among private companies.

"We know the administrative overhead for Medicare is three percent and the administrative overhead of private insurance companies is 20 to 30 percent," she said.

"So it's a really big difference and that means that we're wasting about a third of our healthcare dollars on administration and paperwork. Those dollars that could actually be used for health care," she said.

Flowers explains that government-run health care will give control to doctors and patients and take it away from private insurers.

"If we look at why insurance companies make these kinds of decisions, that's the biggest problem is that they make those decisions not based on what's best for the patient," she explained. "It's based on their profit and what's best for their investors. We think there's something morally wrong with that."

Although there's some disagreement among the nation's physicians about the best cure for America's healthcare woes, most still agree the focus should be on medicine -- not business or politics.

*Originally aired July 22, 2009.

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.