Poll Of Doctors And Public Option Examined

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For months, the American Medical Association has opposed having a public plan option as part of a health care overhaul. That position is at odds with a new finding that showed a majority of doctors supported a public option in health care.


So, how to square the position of the doctors in that survey with the AMA's opposition to a public plan? Joining us to explain is NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner. Julie, how do you do it? How do you reconcile those two things?

JULIE ROVNER: Well, you know, it used to be that the AMA really did represent the views of most doctors because doctors were a pretty homogenous group: white, male and wealthy. Now, as you heard in the piece, the AMA represents less than a third of practicing doctors and the number's only that big 'cause it counts medical students, too. It's not just that the AMA has kind of lost touch, you have a doctor population that's changed a lot over the past few generations. It's got a lot more women, about a third of practicing physicians are now female, a lot more minorities, and therefore, a lot more differences of opinion about what the nation's health care system really ought to look like.

BLOCK: And worth remembering that it was doctors in this country who started the push for the U.S. to have a single-payer system like Canada's.

ROVNER: Absolutely, dating all the way back to the 1980s. Two doctors from Harvard founded Physicians for a National Health Program, which remains the most outspoken backer of a single-payer or Medicare-for-all health care system.

BLOCK: And since most government programs pay less than private insurance, why would doctors prefer a public option?

ROVNER: Well, you're right. A lot of doctors I talked to have plenty of complaints about Medicare and particularly Medicaid, which has really low pay, but they say they're hassled by private insurance companies even more. And what appears to be an increasing number are coming to the conclusion that they'd rather deal with one government bad guy than dozens of private insurance bad guys.

BLOCK: Okay, thanks, Julie. That's NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner. Also, we're collecting your questions about overhauling the U.S. health care system. So, tell us what you find confusing or what you haven't seen explained elsewhere. Julie Rovner will help answer some of those questions on the air later this week. You can send your questions by going to npr.org and clicking on Contact Us. Please don't forget to put the word health in the subject line.

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