Tide Turning or Public Relations Stunt : AMA now open to public option for health insurance

Thursday, July 2, 2009

CNN reported that the AMA's new President, Dr. J. James Rohack, is open to the idea of a government sponsored health insurance plan for Americans who don't have health insurance:

Dr. J. James Rohack told CNN that the AMA supports an “American model” that includes both “a private system and a public system, working together.”

In May, the AMA told a Senate committee it did not support a government-sponsored public health insurance option.

“The AMA does not believe that creating a public health insurance option … is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs across the health care system,” the organization wrote, explaining that a public insurance plan could lead to “an explosion of costs that would need to be absorbed by taxpayers.”

Rohack, who recently became AMA president, suggested Wednesday that the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program available to Congress members and other federal employees could be expanded as a public option. That would avoid having to create a new program from scratch, he said.

“If it’s good enough for Congress, why shouldn’t it be good enough for individuals who don’t have health insurance provided by their employers?” Rohack said.

Making the Congressional health insurance plan available for the public is a very good choice, one that I don't think many Americans would reject. The idea of a public and private system together is similar to Dr. Uwe Reinhardt's "parallel system" idea as described in his New York Times blog:
The objective of current health reform efforts should not be to abolish the employment-based system to which so many Americans feel attached, brittle and expensive as that system may be. Instead, the aim should be to develop a robust, parallel system of fully portable insurance that individuals or families can purchase on their own, in a properly regulated and organized market, with public subsidies where deemed necessary.

The AMA is a lobby, after all, concerned with its own self-interest. This statement by the new AMA president is, after all, only a statement. If they were to demonstrate their committment to supporting a public health insurance option in new Congressional testimony, and disavow their statements from just this past May, this will prove a genuine shift.

But if, on the other hand, when Obama's allies in Congress formally debate and start promoting legislation that makes the Congressional health plan available to all, the AMA starts dragging their feet and starts backtracking, it will be clear that today's rhetoric was just for show.

Let's remember that the AMA has fought against every single major health reform initiative since the time of FDR, so to agree with the notion of a public health insurance option is a big reversal. In my final analysis, I'm inclined to say this is just a ploy.

We'll see how this unfolds later this summer.


Sherman said...

Agreed, until this statement is backed up by lobbying its a ploy.

We will have to look into how the current federal program interacts with the medical industry. And notice he did not say anything about welfare (ideas to expand upon that base have been mentioned on the fringes). Medicare would probably be a better platform to build the new system (with major reforms obviously); however, Medicare frequently dictates terms and prices, meaning less profits for hospitals and others in the medical industry.

AMA joining the side of reform only to sabatoge true structural change.

Sherman said...

welfare* - Medicare/aid

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