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US doctor's group supports health care reform

FIXING the US healthcare system will require extensive reforms, much like treating a patient with multiple organ failure, the president of the leading US doctor's group said yesterday.

Dr. J. James Rohack, a practicing cardiologist from Texas and president of the American Medical Association, said physicians are committed to restructuring the health system because "if we don't do anything, we're headed over a cliff."

Rohack listed some reforms from the physicians' perspective in an interview with Reuters as the AMA concluded its annual meeting in Chicago.

* Liability laws to give doctors who follow agreed-upon best treatment practices protection from lawsuits. The aim is to reduce costly "defensive medicine" in which doctors order unnecessary tests and treatments to protect against legal liability.

* Electronic records that contain a patient's medical history, and a living will, to reduce medical testing and curtail costly end-of-life treatment.

* A single, one-size-fits-all medical insurance form to reduce expensive and time-consuming administrative tasks.

* Caps on non-economic damage awards, usually for pain and suffering -- something opposed by President Barack Obama but already in place in 32 US states. The caps help reduce physicians' crippling malpractice insurance premiums.

Getting Congress, the Obama administration, and myriad interest groups to agree on the components of healthcare reform and pay for it -- $1.2 trillion or more over the next decade, by some estimates -- is the challenge ahead.

"It's just like a human being where your heart pumps blood to the kidneys, which filter the blood. So if you talk about fixing the kidneys but the heart's not working, it isn't going to work," Rohack said.

"That's why we have to have all the components together, and we're excited. We think it can happen. We really do."

The AMA, which represents 250,000 doctors, met at the White House recently with representatives from other sectors of the healthcare industry to hash out ways to slow down fast-rising healthcare expenditures, Rohack said.

He said physicians believe reforms would reduce by about one-fifth the projected 7.2 percent growth in the nation's current $2.3 trillion healthcare bill.

The AMA has made clear it does not favor a single-payer, government-run system and wants to keep private insurance. It also does not want to expand Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly, to the uninsured because that would accelerate its drive toward fiscal insolvency.

The AMA said it will weigh in on proposals for a public, government-run insurance option, government-subsidized insurance cooperatives or insurance exchanges, in an attempt to ferret out and foil "unintended consequences," outgoing AMA president Dr. Nancy Nielsen said.

The goal, AMA leaders said, is to cover the 46 million uninsured Americans and end the practice of denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

"The demographics of the Baby Boomers reaching Medicare, and the obesity epidemic that is real and is going to increase chronic diseases, makes the work force less productive. And if it's less productive it's not going to be productive at work, and it's not going to produce taxes, and it's really going to be a mess," Rohack said.


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