Appearing on CNN yesterday afternoon, Nicolle Wallace, former spokeswoman to the presidential campaigns of George Bush and John McCain, claimed all doctors oppose the creation of a public plan, an integral component of reform. Indeed, the AMA, where President Obama spoke yesterday, has indicated that it will lobby against an effective public plan. But even though the AMA represents only 29% of American doctors (or much less than that, depending on if you subtract the dues payers who don’t currently practice), Wallace incredulously cited the AMA’s position as she boldly claimed to speak on behalf of the “docs”:
WALLACE: I think the biggest problem that Obama faces is not Republicans, it’s the doctors. [...] I think that most normal people look to their doctors for advice and for their reaction to the big health care debates that take place in Washington. And doctors are opposed, very strongly opposed to one of the central tenets of Obama’s plan.
BLITZER: Which tenet is that?
WALLACE: It is the public option. [...]
WALLACE: But there’s plenty of competition. The docs argue that you would crowd out private insurers.
As Paul Begala noted, the AMA doesn’t bother to even survey its members. So not only is Wallace wrong to try to speak for all American doctors when she attacks the public option, she doesn’t even necessarily speak for AMA doctors.
It is difficult to take the AMA as an honest player in the health reform debate. The AMA secures over 20% of its revenue from selling doctor information to the pharmaceutical lobby in a complex scheme to help the drug lobby market its products. This arrangement certainly clouds the AMA’s policy voice.
Unlike the AMA, Doctors for America, an actual member-driven group, conducted a poll of physicians over the weekend asking if they support the public option. Within 48 hours, over 1,500 responded from 48 states with an overwhelming 97% of respondents voting “Yes.” One of the respondents to the DFA survey, Dr. Andrew Janssen, noted:
As a rural family physician, I see people daily who cannot afford or who have been denied private insurance. Without a public insurance option meaningful health care reform is impossible.
Even with the AMA leadership opposing meaningful reform, physician members of the AMA should support a public insurance option. A robust public plan would not only eliminate unnecessary paperwork gimmicks used by private insurers today, but would also give providers timely payments that would allow doctors to focus on delivering the best quality care to their patients.