Critical Condition

Dems Buying Off Doctors on Health Care Reform


In the special interest war over health care, the White House and congressional Democrats have the nation’s drug makers and hospitals generally on their side; the insurance industry, not so much.

Now the bill’s supporters are making a play to lock in the American Medical Association, the organization that says it represents 250,000 doctors and medical students in every state and congressional district. The principal enticement, a $247 billion measure making its way to the Senate floor, aims to wipe out a scheduled 21 percent rate cut for doctors treating Medicare patients and replace it with a permanent, predictable system for future fee increases.

The AMA, firmly in favor of higher pay for doctors, began airing ads last week saying the increase would “protect seniors’ access to quality care.” In case lawmakers need any inducement to act, a late 2008 study by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress, found that nearly 30 percent of Medicare patients looking for a new primary care doctor had trouble finding one.

Yet the AMA won’t yet pledge support for the major health care bill that is the chief objective of the White House and congressional Democrats, despite a request that several officials say was made at a meeting last week with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Nor does it seem eager to soft-pedal another of its own top priorities, legislation to restrict medical malpractice payments.