72% of Physicians Support a Public Option

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media , September 17, 2009

That statement initially surprised me given all the complaints I have heard about Medicare, but not as much as this next finding: More than half (58.3%) of physicians surveyed would support expanding Medicare to individuals 55 to 64 years of age.

The study didn't even find the substantial divisions in support between specialties noted in surveys from before the healthcare debate began. "We were mostly surprised by the consistency of the support," says Federman. "There was support of a public option in the southern regions of the United States, there was support for it among surgeons, there was support for it even among AMA members, and that's what really what surprised us."

The survey was conducted from June 25 through the end of August, when the public debate was at a fever pitch, and physician responses remained consistent throughout the period, explains Federman.

Of course, support for a public option doesn't necessarily translate into support for the other specifics of the reform legislation. And it doesn't discount the fact that there is genuine physician opposition to both.

But while the debate, even on the physician side, has been driven by the loudest voices, the survey suggests there is a largely silent majority of physicians that could have an impact on the outcome.

I keep going back to a poll conducted earlier this year by Gallup, only because it is so revealing: The public trusts physicians more than anyone else—politician or otherwise—to inform them about healthcare reform.

In that context, this week's survey showing physician support for the public option could prove more influential in its ultimate fate than even President Obama's endorsement during his address to Congress last week.

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Elyas Bakhtiari is a freelance editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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