Yesterday, I spoke with Nancy Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association, for a longer piece I'm writing about the prospects for health-care reform. I thought that in the wake of yesterday's appointment of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, it would be worthwhile to explain the thinking of the influential physicians' group.
Historically, the AMA has vociferously opposed efforts to expand the government role in health care (see, as an example, this classic 1961 LP "Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine" that was recorded on behalf of the organization).
The AMA now sees covering the uninsured in some type of universal health care plan as an urgent matter. Nielsen was sure to emphasize repeatedly that, "We are not in favor of government-run health care." The group's own proposal in many ways mirrors the one John McCain put out during the campaign by shifting the tax subsidy on employer-based insurance to individuals.
Nielsen made it pretty clear that the current AMA thinking is that if health care reform is inevitable, they'd much rather have a place at the table than draw a line in the sand and get excluded from the process, because either way, physicians will have to work within the system that gets created.
"It appears that change is probably going to happen," she said. "The important thing for us is that we are part of the solution. If we are on the outside looking in and just complaining without being pat of the solution, that's not a good place for physicians to be."
She said that Daschle reached out to the AMA shortly after the election, and the group expects to be involved as a plan gets hashed out.
"That's a better way than to cross your arms and say 'no' 100 times," she said. "Then nobody talks to you anymore."
The AMA may speak up at times to point out potential unintended consequences from some ideas, she explained, but it doesn't want to be an obstacle to reform.
I asked her specifically about Daschle's idea of a Federal Health Board, modeled after the Federal Reserve Board, which I criticized in my article on the main site today.
"It's a very interesting approach," she said. "I wouldn't immediately react negatively to it at all."
But she made clear that she'd have to know how it would take shape, and her ultimate opinion "would depend on the scope of the board."
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