Critical Condition

The AMA and AARP Don’t Speak for Doctors and Seniors

In the wake of endorsements of the House health bill by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the AARP, President Obama greeted the White House press corps and explained the AARP’s motivation:

“They’re endorsing this bill because they know it will strengthen Medicare, not jeopardize it.  They know it will protect the benefits our seniors receive, not cut them.  So I want everybody to remember that the next time you hear the same tired arguments to the contrary from the insurance companies and their lobbyists.  And remember this endorsement the next time you see a bunch of misleading ads on television.”

Hopefully the Congressional Budget Office will quit misleading people by saying that the House and Senate bills would each siphon hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare and spend it elsewhere.  And hopefully the CBO will quit saying that if the bills don’t do this, they will add hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficits.  

In truth, the AARP and the AMA endorsed the House health bill because they are as out of touch with their own members as the Democrats and their health-care bills are with the voters.

The Democrats continue to turn a deaf ear to the American people, forging ahead with their proposals at their peril.  They got a clear rebuke in New Jersey and Virginia on Tuesday night.  But there was the President on Thursday afternoon, seemingly unfazed by the verdicts in the Old Dominion and the Garden State, basking in the glow of the AARP and AMA endorsements.  But the AARP and AMA are not good barometers of public opinion.  They are not even good barometers of doctors’ and seniors’ opinions. 

It’s an open secret in Washington that only about 15-20 percent of doctors are members of the AMA.  Sermo, a 110,000-member, non-partisan online community of doctors — 25 percent of whom say they are members of the AMA — has recently released polls showing that 92 percent of doctors don’t think the Democratic bills address the “real sources of cost increases,” and 94 percent don’t think there can be “effective” health reform without tort reform (which the Republican bill includes but the Democratic bills do not). 

Sermo hasn’t released polls that specifically address the current bills, but an earlier Sermo poll, showed that 94 percent of doctors opposed the legislation on the table this summer, and 95 percent said that the AMA doesn’t speak for them. 

Recent polls show that seniors are no more in lock-step with the AARP than doctors are with the AMA.  Gallup, Rasmussen, and Reuters polls from the past several weeks show that seniors are opposed to the Democratic bills — by margins ranging from 43-38 percent opposed to 59-36 percent opposed.  Rasmussen shows that 47 percent of seniors are strongly opposed with only 19 percent strongly in favor.

Across all voters, not just seniors, Gallup shows that by the overwhelming margin of 49-22 percent, Americans think that their own health-care plans would become morecostly under the proposed Democratic bills. 

Therefore, Democrats should be especially alarmed by another presumably misleading finding from the CBO, namely that the newly announced Republican health bill would actually lower Americans’ insurance premiums.  The Republican bill would also increase the number of Americans who have health insurance — by an amount equivalent to the combined populations of Boston, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. 

Though the Democrats prefer to do Americans’ shopping for them, Americans know how to hunt for a good value.  When they see a health-care bill marked down by 95 percent that would lower their premiums, versus one at full (trillion-dollar) price that would raise their premiums, they won’t have a hard time choosing.  And there’s nothing misleading about that. 

 — Jeffrey H. Anderson is a senior fellow in health-care studies at the Pacific Research Institute and was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during Pres. George W. Bush’s second term.