x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Obama to lobby doctors on health care

Barack Obama will make his case for a public insurance programme to the nation's doctors today.

With Congress working to flesh out controversial elements of his health care reform plan, the US president Barack Obama will make his case for a public insurance programme to the nation's doctors today, seeking to overcome their resistance. Mr Obama, in a speech to the American Medical Association, will "lay out his vision for a system that replicates best practices, incentivises excellence and closes cost disparities - and he'll ask for our medical professionals' help in getting the job done," an administration official said.

Speaking to the doctors' annual meeting in Chicago, Mr Obama will make his case for "a health insurance exchange where private plans compete with a public option that drives down costs and expands choice," the official said. The president's speech to the AMA comes as debate sharpens over elements of the sweeping health care overhaul being drafted by Congress, including how to pay for the plan and whether it should include a public insurance programme to compete with private insurers.

The US health care industry costs about $2.5 trillion annually but leaves 46 million Americans uninsured and with little access to medical care. Despite the cost, the US system consistently ranks worse than other developed countries on many key measures. The president argues that a public insurance plan is needed to compete with private insurers to drive down costs, but some Republicans say a public plan would have competitive advantages that would ultimately drive private insurers out of the market.

The AMA has expressed scepticism about any public insurance plan that would be similar to the Medicare programme for the elderly. But the group said last week it was willing to consider other public options being considered by Congress, including member-owned cooperatives. "Health reform that covers the uninsured is AMA's top priority this year," the AMA president Nancy Nielsen said in a statement. "Every American deserves affordable, high-quality health care coverage."

The health secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a round of television news show appearances on Sunday, defended the president's push for a public insurance option. "The president feels that having a 'public option' side by side - same playing field, same rules - will give Americans choice and will help lower costs for everybody. And that's a good thing," Ms Sebelius told CNN. "The president does not want to dismantle privately owned plans," she added. "He doesn't want the 180 million people who have employer coverage to lose that coverage. He wants to strengthen the marketplace."

But many Republicans oppose a public plan and say there is not enough support in Congress to approve. The idea of a system of federally chartered insurance cooperatives has emerged as an alternative to a public plan. *Reuters