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Obama presses doctors to back health care overhaul

Associated Press | 6/17/2009, 4:59 a.m.

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama bluntly told doctors Monday he is against their highest legislative priority — limiting malpractice awards — and earned boos from an audience he was here to court for his health care overhaul plans.

Pushing anew to reshape the nation’s health care delivery system and extend coverage to the millions who don’t have it, Obama went before the annual meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) and took on others who take issue with parts of his plan as well.

Calling them “naysayers,” “fear-mongers” and peddlers of “Trojan horse” falsehoods, Obama warned interest groups, lobbyists and others against using “fear tactics to paint any effort to achieve reform as an attempt to socialize medicine.”

“There are those who will try and scuttle this opportunity no matter what,” Obama said.

GOP Rep. Tom Price of Georgia — a former orthopedic surgeon — accused Obama of seeking a “government takeover” of health care.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call organized by the Republican National Committee, Price said a committee that Obama’s administration has established to study the effectiveness of various medical treatments would turn into a “rationing board” to overrule doctors and deny patients care. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and other Republicans introduced legislation to ban the rationing of care on such a basis.

The economic stimulus legislation that passed over the winter provides funding for “comparative effectiveness research,” and the GOP proposal would block the government from using the results to “deny coverage of an item or service” in a federal health care program.

In Chicago, the president said for the first time publicly that health care reform, including covering the almost 50 million Americans who have no insurance, would cost about $1 trillion over 10 years.

“That’s real money, even in Washington,” he said. “But remember: That’s less than we are projected to have spent on the war in Iraq. And also remember: Failing to reform our health care system in a way that genuinely reduces cost growth will cost us trillions of dollars more in lost economic growth and lower wages.”

Aides had said previously that the administration wants to keep the cost around $1 trillion, while also acknowledging it might go higher.

Obama has taken steps to outline where money could be found.

He wants to cut federal payments to hospitals by about $200 billion and cut $313 billion from Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years. He is also proposing $635 billion in tax increases and spending cuts in the health care system as a “down payment” for his plan.

The president traveled to talk to the 250,000-physician group in hopes of persuading doctors not to fight him on reform. The nation’s doctors, like many other groups, are divided over the president’s proposals. Many are skeptical of his plan to create government-sponsored insurance as an option alongside private coverage.

They also want limits on jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits — caps that Democrats, including Obama, have long opposed and Republicans led by former President George W. Bush long pushed for.