Doctors urged to back reform

President Barack Obama

Gerald Herbert

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama asked skeptical doctors Monday to get behind an overhaul of the nation's health care system, declaring the system a "ticking time bomb" for the federal budget that could force the entire nation to "go the way of GM."

The difficulty of his sales job was evident when he said he was against limiting awards in malpractice lawsuits, a top priority for doctors. That statement brought him a smattering of boos, a remarkable public response to a popular president accustomed to cheering audiences.

Flying to his hometown to speak at the annual meeting here of the American Medical Association, Obama struck back at critics of his efforts to reshape the health care delivery system to bring skyrocketing health care costs under control and expand coverage to the millions of uninsured.

He had his sharpest rhetoric yet for those critics, calling them "naysayers," "fear-mongers" and peddlers of "Trojan horse" falsehoods who should be ignored. He warned interest groups and lobbyists not to use "fear tactics to paint any effort to achieve reform as an attempt to socialize medicine."

The president directly took on criticism from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, though not by name. On Sunday, Romney, widely expected to consider another run at the White House in 2012, called Obama's support for creating government-sponsored insurance as an option alongside private coverage a "Trojan horse" for a single-payer system like Britain's.

"When you hear the naysayers claim that I'm trying to bring about government-run health care, know this: They are not telling the truth," Obama said.

Even before Obama spoke, Republicans offered push-back.

GOP Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a former orthopedic surgeon, accused Obama of pushing a "government takeover" of health care. Speaking to reporters on a conference call organized by the Republican National Committee, Price contended that a committee established within Obama's administration to study the effectiveness of various medical treatments would turn into a "rationing board" to overrule doctors and deny patients care.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and other Republicans introduced legislation to ban the rationing of care on such a basis.

The economic stimulus legislation that passed over the winter provides funding for "comparative effectiveness research," and the GOP proposal would block the government from using the results to "deny coverage of an item or service" in a federal health care program.

The president said for the first time publicly that health care reform, including covering the almost 50 million Americans who have no insurance, would cost about $1 trillion over 10 years.

"That's real money, even in Washington," he said. "But remember: That's less than we are projected to have spent on the war in Iraq. And also remember: Failing to reform our health care system in a way that genuinely reduces cost growth will cost us trillions of dollars more in lost economic growth and lower wages."

Aides have said previously that the administration wants to keep the cost around $1 trillion, while also acknowledging it might go higher.

Obama said he's "open" to requiring all Americans to have health insurance, stressing that the plan would permit assistance for those who cannot afford it on their own. A "health care exchange" would be set up to provide additional options for the uninsured.