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Liberals, Doctors: No Reform Deal

Health Providers Tap Grass Roots

As Senate Democrats show tentative signs of coalescing around a compromise health care bill that eliminates the controversial public insurance option, some of their allies are wasting no time in trying to sink the new proposal.

While lawmakers await a Congressional Budget Office cost analysis of the proposed substitute, doctor and hospital groups are already trying to scuttle part of the plan that would allow people ages 55 to 64 to enroll in Medicare. They claim that the provision would overburden the government-run health insurance plan for senior citizens, and they say Medicare already shortchanges doctors and medical providers in its current form.

Liberal groups, including MoveOn.org and union-backed Health Care for America Now, have also railed against the compromise proposal because they view the public option as central to any health care reform effort.

Hospital trade groups argue they have made enough concessions after agreeing last summer to $155 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts over a decade.

“Such a policy will further negatively impact hospitals — after we have already agreed to contribute the maximum level of sustainable reductions that community hospitals can reasonably endure,” warned an e-mail alert sent by the Federation of American Hospitals to its members last week after news of the proposed deal first surfaced. The e-mail asked federation members to encourage Democratic Senators to oppose the measure.

“Don’t wait! Click here to take action against a Medicare buy-in,” it said.

The American Hospital Association issued a similar alert to its members, saying, “Adding millions of people to these programs at a time when they already severely underfund hospitals is unwise and should be opposed.”

The president of the American Medical Association also weighed in on the proposed Medicare buy-in. Writing in his blog posted on the AMA Web site, J. James Rohack, a Texas physician, panned the idea, saying, “It would add millions of more patients to a program where it is difficult for a new enrollee to get an appointment with a physician.”

AMA spokeswoman Lisa Lucas said Rohack’s blog writings reflected the official views of the doctors’ group.

“I can almost guarantee we will be out publicly opposing it,” she said.

These groups, however, have refrained from criticizing the other element of the compromise — a measure that would authorize the Office of Personnel Management to negotiate with nonprofit health care plans to offer coverage for individuals who cannot get insurance. The OPM already oversees the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan.

On his blog, Rohack wrote that a better way to cover the uninsured would be to allow individuals to buy into the federal employees’ plan.

The AMA has been more supportive of the Democrats’ health care plan than other doctors’ coalitions and business groups. The group backed the House health care bill. The AMA also recently wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that supported some provisions of the Senate plan while expressing reservations about others.

Not everyone has come out swinging against the Medicare buy-in. One major player in the health care debate, the drug companies, has been notably silent.

A spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said the group wanted to see a fleshed-out version of the proposal before taking a stand.

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