Obama makes hard sell to doctors

President Obama pitched his healthcare reform package to the American Medical Association (AMA) today, telling the physicians in the audience that healthcare reform will make their job simpler and more fruitful.

The AMA opposes a "public option," a key component of Obama's proposal, and has helped torpedo past efforts to reform and expand healthcare.

But Obama told the assembled doctors that he would work to quell their doubts.

"I know there's some concern about a public option," Obama said, citing fears that a public plan would replicate what doctors dislike about Medicare. "These are legitimate concerns, but ones, I believe, that can be overcome."

Departing from his prepared remarks, the President added: "A public option is not your enemy, it's your friend."

The president emphasized that healthcare reform would streamline bureaucracy and let doctors concentrate on treating patients.

"You did not enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers," Obama said. "You entered this profession to be healers--and that's what our health care system should let you be."

Obama made only a passing reference to medical malpractice reform, one of AMA's signature issues.

The NY Times reported this morning that the administration might use malpractice reform as a "barganing chip" to gain physicians' approval for healthcare legislation. But in his address today, the president was vague.

"[W]hile I'm not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who've been wrongfully harmed, I do think we need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, let doctors focus on practicing medicine, and encourage broader use of evidence-based guidelines," the president said.

More broadly, the President framed healthcare reform as a necessary step to economic recovery.

As a "ticking time bomb for the federal budget," healthcare costs threaten to create unsustainable deficits.

Obama tied healthcare costs to the downfall of the American auto industry, arguing that the nation as a whole might suffer a similar fate if legislators fail to take action soon.

"A big part of what led General Motors and Chrysler into trouble in recent decades were the huge costs they racked up providing health care for their workers," Obama said, adding that " if we do not fix our health care system, America may go the way of GM; paying more, getting less, and going broke."

Obama said the downpayment on reform would come from revenue increases--including limiting tax deductions for wealthy Americans--and cutting costs. Those cost reductions would come from three sources, the President said: (1) reducing inefficiencies in Medicare; (2) preventing hospital readmissions by Medicare patients; and (3) more generic drugs.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will begin marking up healthcare legisglation this week. Congressional Democrats hope to have a bill on Obama's desk by early October.