Feature

Obama, doctors, and lawyers

Is malpractice-reform talk enough to sell the American Medical Association on Obama’s health-care overhaul?

In a bid to bring doctors on board for his health-care overhaul, said Russ Britt in MarketWatch, President Obama “ventured into the lion’s den” Monday, pitching a “hard sell” to the American Medical Association about the need for doctors to cut costs. He got a “thunderous standing ovation” for mentioning malpractice tort reform, but the “warm reception” cooled quickly when he said he doesn’t back malpractice award caps.

On the other side, Obama’s mere mention of malpractice reform sent Democrats and trial lawyers “into a fluster,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Tort reform is essential to cutting costs—some economists argue that fear over “stratospheric jury awards” costs us $100 billion a year—but the trial lobby needn’t fear Obama. Without malpractice caps, medical liability is just an empty “token policy” to keep doctors at the bargaining table.

The doctors’ “tepid applause” at Obama’s other detailed policy prescriptions, said Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic, made the AMA seem less like a group of high-minded healers and more like just another “interest group” focused entirely on its “narrow economic interests.” And maybe it is. With only about a quarter of U.S. doctors as members, the AMA represents the medical profession “at both its most craven and conservative.”

At this “Long Tease” stage in the health care debate, Obama will back any idea, said David Brooks in The New York Times. “Doctors want relief from lawsuits”? Sure. Liberals demand a “public option”? He’s all for it. Most of the hard issues will be dropped in the final, frantic “scrum” to finish the reform bill, leaving a modest reform package and a “(partial) health-care victory” for Obama.

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