Obama Touts Support from AMA, AARP as Health Care Vote Draws Near

By Fred Lucas | November 5, 2009 | 6:49 PM EST

President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – As thousands protested the House Democrats’ health care legislation outside of the U.S. Capitol building on Thursday, President Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at a White House press briefing to hail the endorsement of his health care goals by two major lobbying groups.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the American Medical Association (AMA) formally issued endorsements of the Democratic health care overhaul package that would include the establishment of a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers; mandates on employers to provide insurance; mandates on individuals to carry insurance; and a requirement for insurance firms to cover anyone regardless of pre-existing condition.
“These are men and women who know our health care system best and have been watching this debate closely,” Obama said of the AMA. “They would not be supporting it if they really believed it would lead to government bureaucrats making decisions that are best left to doctors.
“They would not be with us if they believed that reform would in any way damage the critical and sacred doctor-patient relationship. Instead they’re supporting reform because they’ve seen first-hand what’s broken about our health care system,” Obama added.
AMA President J. James Rohack said, “The time to make health system reform a reality is now.” He also praised the House legislation.
This health care reform “will significantly expand health insurance coverage to Americans to empower patient and physician decision making; institute meaningful insurance market reforms; make substantial investments in quality; institute prevention and wellness initiatives; provide incentives to states that adopt certificate of merit and/or early offer liability reforms, and reduce administrative burdens,” Rohack said in a statement.
The House bill put forth by the Democrats “is not the perfect bill, and we will continue to advocate for changes, but it goes a long way toward expanding access to high-quality affordable health coverage for all Americans, and it would make the system better for patients and physicians,” Rohack said.
“This is not the last step but the next step toward health system reform,” he said. “We will remain actively engaged with patients, physicians, Congress and the administration to ensure that the final bill results in marked improvements to our health system.”
This is not a sign, however, that doctors are united. Last month, the past president of the AMA, Donald J. Palmisano, who held the post in 2003-2004, said that, as a “conscientious” physician, “I believe the American Medical Association made a serious mistake because it violates AMA policy, which stipulates no government involvement in the practice of medicine.”
Obama was also enthused about the support of the most powerful seniors lobby in the United States.
“When it comes to the AARP, this is no small endorsement,” the president said. “They know it will strengthen Medicare, not jeopardize it. They know it will protect the benefits our seniors receive, not cut them.
“I want everyone to remember that the next time you hear the same tired arguments to the contrary from insurance companies and their lobbyists, and remember this endorsement the next time you see a bunch of misleading ads on television,” Obama added.
The AARP had previously held out on endorsing the plan outright. However, the AMA is repeating its previously stated support as the House vote is expected on the bill perhaps as soon as Saturday.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the Democratic health care bill would cut Medicare by $505 billion over 10 years. The bulk of these cuts would come from Medicare Advantage plans, which allow seniors to pay extra for premium coverage.
About 11 million seniors have Medicare Advantage plans. An analysis by the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee argued that 6 million seniors would lose their access to a Medicare Advantage plan, which includes another 3 million that would lose the plan they currently have, if the Democratic plan passes.
The CBO said that Medicare cuts as stipulated in the House Democrats’ health care bill “could lead many plans to limit the benefits they offer, raise their premiums, or withdraw from the program.”
The AARP contends that, overall, the new legislation would strengthen Medicare for the future, ensure seniors can choose their own doctor and lower drug costs.
“After carefully monitoring developments in Washington and studying the various legislative proposals, AARP’s all-volunteer Board of Directors — made up of working and retired doctors, nurses, business people, and teachers — has decided to endorse the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962/H.R. 3961) because it delivers on key priorities we’ve been fighting for,” the organization said in a statement.
The Democratic proposal would, according to a CBO analysis in August, increase the drug premiums for seniors by at least 20 percent higher than what they would have been without the health care legislation.
The AARP statement continues that it will work with Congress to improve the bill.
“That’s why we’re going to keep working with members of the House and Senate to ensure our priorities are included in any final health care reform bill,” the AARP statement said.
“And, as the legislative process moves forward, we’ve let Congress and the administration know that we will fight with the strength of our nearly 40 million members against any proposal that would hurt rather than help Medicare and older Americans’ access to affordable, quality health care,” it added.
Obama will go to Capitol Hill Friday to meet with House Democrats before the vote expected on Saturday.
“We are closer to passing this reform than ever before and now that the doctors and medical professionals are standing with us, now that the organizations charged with the looking out for the interests of seniors are standing with us, we are even closer.”