AMA Chief: Health Bill Still In Early Stages

The American Medical Association, which last week backed the House Democrats' version of a bill to overhaul health care, endorsed the measure not for what it is now, but for what it may yet become, the group's president says.

"We did not believe that the bill that was introduced was going to be the final bill, but we also believe that this was too early to call the bill and say, 'That's it, we're not going to play anymore,'" AMA President Dr. James Rohack tells Robert Siegel. "We believe, like a baseball game, we're in the second inning."

The AMA's support of the measure was seen as remarkable because of the group's long history of opposition to a federal government role in health care. The AMA has worked against the health-care plans of Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton.

The House bill, known as America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, would create a public health insurance alternative, and mandate coverage for most individuals and from most employers. Some state medical associations, like the one in Texas, have broken with the AMA on endorsing the bill. Rohack, however, says change is needed.

"The American Medical Association is committed to having fundamental health reform this year," he says. "And, the reason is: status quo is unacceptable."

Obama Says Congress Close To Health Overhaul

President Obama tried Tuesday to create momentum for overhauling the nation's health care system, saying Congress is closing in on a plan that will provide care to all Americans.

Despite increasing criticism from Republicans and a recent poll that shows public dissatisfaction with his handling of the issue, "we are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need," Obama said, before going into a health care meeting with House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Obama said the House and Senate bills agree on major issues, including providing coverage for 46 million uninsured Americans. The bills also align on covering those who have pre-existing conditions, those who become seriously ill and those who leave their jobs, lose jobs or start their own businesses.

Republicans have stepped up criticism of the president's push for a health system overhaul, saying the president's timeline for passage is too soon.

During a speech at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said Obama was "conducting a dangerous experiment with our health care and with the quality of our lives."

In addition, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday showed approval of Obama's handling of health care had slipped below 50 percent for the first time.

Obama has pushed for passage of a bill through the House and the Senate before the August recess, though on Monday he said the end of the year would be acceptable.

In an interview on NBC's Today show, Obama said it was necessary to set a deadline or risk the issue being bogged down by politics. "If you don't set a deadline in this town, nothing happens," he said.

During the Today interview, Obama acknowledged that lawmakers must come up with more money to pay for covering the 46 million Americans who are now uninsured.

"Right now they're not where they need to be," he said. But he insisted that progress is being made.

In the House, two of three committees have signed off on a health care bill, but some Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have raised objections that money in the bill would fund abortions. Late Monday, committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, said members are making headway. Democrats on the committee were scheduled to meet with Obama Tuesday afternoon.

The president has embarked on a campaign to drum up support for his health care initiatives, devoting much of last week and this week to the effort.

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