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GOP Link to Doctors Gets Knife

It’s not that Senate Republicans aren’t sympathetic to doctors’ desire to get paid for their services; it’s just that they aren’t willing to bend over backward anymore to help the American Medical Association get the legislative remedy that it wants.

Republicans and the AMA used to be like peas in a pod — such as in the early 2000s when the GOP had control of Congress and repeatedly pushed payout limits for medical malpractice lawsuits.

But then last year, the AMA did the unthinkable in Republican eyes and endorsed the Democrats’ massive health care reform bill. So as the Democratic-controlled Senate now debates a bill that would prevent physicians from taking a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments, Republicans are turning the other way — saying that endorsement and other political missteps have scarred the long-standing relationship.

“For some inexplicable reason, I think the AMA has kind of burned all its bridges. It just makes absolutely no sense to me,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn said.

The AMA pulled out the stops against the Texas lawmaker in 2008 when he voted against that year’s push for the Medicare “doc fix,” running ads against him in Texas and having the Texas Medical Association revoke its endorsement of him for a second term.

The AMA also ran ads against other Republicans that year, and when the Senate revoted on the issue after a two-week stretch of bad publicity generated by the AMA, nine Republicans, including Cornyn, switched to support the doc fix.

But that scorched-earth campaign is not why most Republicans feel so little allegiance to the AMA these days.

“I think a lot of it had to do with health care reform,” GOP Policy Committee Chairman John Thune said. “The physicians of course jumped on that bandwagon early, notwithstanding our concerns about it and our trying to convey to them why we thought it would be a bad idea for them in the long run, and what strikes me about it is they’re now coming back and trying to get things that they should have done in health care.”

The South Dakota lawmaker added: “That’s why a lot of Republicans right now are looking at this issue and saying: ‘Yeah, we want to help you. We want to fix this. We thought it should have been fixed a long time ago.’ But [they] are not particularly sympathetic to their sense of urgency about getting a 10-year fix in place given the fact that it should have been done in the health care debate.”

Even the AMA’s fellow doctors had little sympathy for its plight.

“One would think that if there were a major health care bill in this country and the largest physician membership group in the country was involved that it should have included paying for doctors and dealing with lawsuit abuse,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), an orthopedic surgeon and member of the AMA.

Indeed, many Republicans believe that without help from the AMA, Democrats might not have been able to get all 60 Democratic Senators to support the overhaul last December.

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