If the AMA Opposes Public Option, What Does it Support?

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , June 12, 2009

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairing the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on its healthcare reform bill Thursday, aimed his questions at the American Medical Association after a New York Times story noted that the AMA opposed a public insurance option.

The AMA distanced itself from the story in a statement released yesterday, which said the story had created a false impression about the AMA's position on a public plan option. However, speaking before the committee Thursday, Samantha Rothman, a member of the AMA's Board of Trustees and a fellow in pediatric emergency medicine in Boston, said the "AMA strongly opposes a public health insurance plan operated by the federal government with a pay schedule that is based on Medicare."

She also said that "the AMA strongly supports making affordable health insurance available to all Americans," and that this can "best be achieved through a combination of insurance market reforms and healthcare exchanges that offer a variety of affordable private insurance plans."

She added that the AMA was "open to consideration of a new health insurance option that is market-based and not run by government"--but she did not name the policy. "Though several concepts have been publicly discussed, no legislative details have yet been put forth and we do look forward to reviewing those ideas."

But Dodd, who is chairing the committee while Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) recuperates from a brain tumor, wanted to know more--especially given that the committee is examining a public plan option, which was not detailed in the bill released on Monday.

"Give us some ideas -put some more flesh on this, as you will, other than just sort of a vague concept here that you're willing to support something other than a public option," said Dodd.

Again, Rothman said the AMA position is "that we think this can be done with market reforms in the private insurance market, but we're very interested in some of these alternatives." One of the alternatives, she said, is the federally chartered cooperative plan unveiled earlier this week by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). But the AMA would "really need to see more details of those plans before we can comment specifically."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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