Paying a house call to some of his toughest critics today, President Obama appeared before the nation's leading doctors' group, stressing the urgent need for health care reform, defending a proposal to provide a public health care option to give Americans more choice in their coverage, and opposing caps in payments for medical malpractice awards.
"We are not a nation that accepts nearly 46 million uninsured men, women and children. We are not a nation that lets hardworking families go without the coverage they deserve, or turns its back on those in need. ... We need to get this done," he said to applause.
In public and private the AMA has been pushing the president to address the reason for all the unnecessary tests, referrals and hospital stays their members order because, they say, they practice defensive medicine to fend off voracious trial lawyers. The president addressed their concerns today, though likely not to their satisfaction.
"Some doctors may feel the need to order more tests and treatments to avoid being legally vulnerable," the president said. "That's a real issue. And while 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 pushed for a health care system that focused on results. "You did not enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers," he said to loud applause. "You entered this profession to be healers -- and that's what our health care system should let you be."
"To most Americans, you are the health care system. Americans -- me included -- just do what you recommend. That is why I will listen to you and work with you to pursue reform that works for you," the president said.
"Health care reform is the single most important thing we can do for America's long-term fiscal health. That is a fact," he said.
Obama outlined his support for a health insurance exchange that could bring down costs by setting up a system in which private health plans compete with a public option and consumers have more choices.
"You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package. And one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market that [will] force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest," he said.
On this key issue, Obama faces significant opposition from Senate Republicans, who believe the public option is a slippery slope to government-run health care.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky Sunday called the idea a "nonstarter."