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Obama presses doctors to back health care overhaul

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

Obama drew applause with a focus on the concerns of the medical profession, telling them any system that relies on them “to be bean-counters and paper-pushers” is out of whack, and that his push to investigate best practices and eliminate unnecessary procedures “is not about dictating what kind of care should be provided.”

“I need your help, doctors,” he said. “To most Americans, you are the health care system. The fact is, Americans — and I include myself, Michelle and our kids in this — we just do what you tell us to do.”

But the malpractice issue is the most provocative with this audience, which chafes at the heavy expense of malpractice insurance.

Obama started by sympathizing with doctors “who feel like they are constantly looking over their shoulder for fear of lawsuits” and said he recognizes any health overhaul will be hard to accomplish without changing that. The crowd burst into applause.

“Don’t get too excited yet. … Just hold onto your horses here, guys,” Obama said.

“I want to be honest with you. I’m not advocating caps on malpractice awards,” the president said, greeted by a smattering of boos, a remarkable public response to a popular president accustomed to cheering audiences.

He added, without offering specifics, that “excessive defensive medicine” that is conducted out of fear of lawsuits and that increases health costs should be curbed.

Though he offered no support for limiting lawsuits, Obama raised the antennae of trial lawyers’ groups just by mentioning the issue.

The Center for Justice and Democracy, which says it advocates for injured consumers, attorneys and others, released a letter to Obama signed by 64 survivors of medical malpractice saying they were “extremely concerned that the rights of medical malpractice patients may be stripped away as part of your national health care proposal.”

“The notion that ‘defensive medicine’ is leading to higher health care costs is not supported by empirical data or academic literature,” said Les Weisbrod, president of the American Association for Justice, the main lobby for trial lawyers.

Obama co-sponsored legislation with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate in 2005 that would have created a program to allow patients to learn of medical errors and establish negotiated compensation with the offer of an apology.

The president directly took on criticism from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, though not by name.

On Sunday, Romney, widely expected to consider another run at the White House in 2012, called Obama’s support for public insurance a “Trojan horse” to create a single-payer system like Britain’s.

“When you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run health care, know this: They are not telling the truth,” Obama said.

Jennifer Loven reported from Washington. AP Writer Erica Werner contributed from Washington.

(Associated Press)