Surgeons endorse House healthcare bill

The American College of Surgeons has endorsed the House’s healthcare reform bill, joining the American Medical Association in backing the Democratic initiative.

“On behalf of the more than 74,000 members of the American College of Surgeons,” Executive Director Thomas Russell wrote in a letter, “I write to express the College’s support.”

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The backing of the physician lobby, which has opposed past reform efforts, would prove incredibly valuable to President Obama and his Democratic allies in their push to enact comprehensive healthcare reform this year.

The house of medicine is far from unified in support of the House Democrats’ bill, however.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons issued a statement opposing the legislation, citing their stances against the creation of a government-run health insurance plan and in favor of medical malpractice reform measures rejected by Democrats.

Likewise, a letter opposing the House Democratic bill is circulating among state-based medical societies. The missive could land in Capitol Hill inboxes on Monday.

Like the American Medical Association, the surgeons’ support is strongly tied to provisions in the House bill that would replace the formula that calculates how much Medicare pays physicians.

The current Medicare payment system, universally regarded as flawed, has called for pay cuts every year for nearly a decade, forcing Congress to enact short-term fixes. For 2010, the formula would establish a 21.5 percent cut without legislative intervention.

“One of the greatest threats to our health care system is the uncertainty facing physicians in Medicare, and H.R. 3200 takes important steps to address the problems posed,” Russell wrote in a letter delivered Thursday to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.).

The new physician payment formula in the House bill would cost up to $300 billion over 10 years. The Senate Finance Committee is not considering a permanent fix to the payment issues, meaning that physician groups' endorsement of the House’s bill does not necessarily mean they will support the final healthcare legislation.

The Ways and Means Committee and Education and Labor Committee completed their respective markups of the healthcare reform bill in the early hours of Friday morning. The Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare’s physician benefits, is scheduled to finish its markup next Wednesday.