In a recent New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Howard Brody argues that physicians and organized medicine (physicians' professional organizations) have not stepped up enough in the health reform arena.
He makes some good points, but as someone who, with many committed colleagues in Doctors for America, have been trying to make the voices of physicians heard, the majority of physicians who favor health care reform, I disagree.
The medical profession's reaction has been quite different. Although major professional organizations have endorsed various reform measures, no promises have been made in terms of cutting any future medical costs. Indeed, in some cases, physician support has been made contingent on promises that physicians' income would not be negatively affected by reform.
It is appropriate to question the ethics of organized medicine's public stance. Physicians have, in effect, sworn an oath to place the interests of the patient ahead of their own interests — including their financial interests. None of the for-profit health care industries that have promised cost savings have taken such an oath. How can physicians, alone among the "special interests" affected by health care reform, justify demanding protection from revenue losses?
Dr. Brody makes some interesting points about physicians' role in health care reform, including the general unwillingness of organized medicine to step up and make concessions on income or to vigorously work on the problem of practice variation.
He is only partially correct in his assessment of organized medicine's advocacy role this time around. I think it is a real accomplishment, an unprecedented consensus, that the ten largest physician organizations have come out in support of the House Bill, which includes many very important reforms including the public option.
What amazes me is that this has NO currency in the media. Does anyone know this fact? Does anyone realize how monumental this should be? So regardless of whether organized medicine has made the right offers or concessions in this current debate, the fact that they have stood up, in many cases with much pushback from conservative members and advocated for health reform is a big deal.
Secondly, even if organized medicine's endorsement of reform has not taken the form some of us would like (single payer, Bismarkian insurance), individual physicians, in surveys published in the NEJM have indicated overwhelming willingness to make a deal (i.e., accept a public option) and accept concessions.
a large majority of respondents (78%) agreed that physicians have a professional obligation to address societal health policy issues. Majorities also agreed that every physician is professionally obligated to care for the uninsured or underinsured (73%), and most were willing to accept limits on reimbursement for expensive drugs and procedures for the sake of expanding access to basic health care (67%). By contrast, physicians were divided almost equally about cost-effectiveness analysis; just over half (54%) reported having a moral objection to using such data "to determine which treatments will be offered to patients.
...the 28% of physicians who consider themselves conservative were consistently less enthusiastic about professional responsibilities pertaining to health care reform.
So i would differ with Dr. Brody's assessment that physicians and organized medicine have not stepped up adequately.
The problem, as I see it, is that the media and the pro-reform contingent in Congress, have done an abysmal job of letting the public know that the people whose opinions they value most in this debate - physicians - are overwhelmingly in favor of reform.
What we see in the media are the conservative physicians in congress (Sens. Coburn and Barrasso, Congressman Boustany) who are ridiculously out of touch with mainstream physicians. Though in touch with the angry tea partiers and the admittedly sizable contingent of conservative American physicians (not accidentally all of these physicians practicing in high income specialties - ob/gyn, orthopedics and surgical subspecialties ), they do not represent the thinking of most physicians.
Furthermore, as Dr. Brody rightly points out, physicians have a higher duty to our patients than to our own narrow self interest. But here, again, physicians have acknowledged this in a formal way in the Charter on Medical Professionalism, published in 2004 by the American College of Physicians and endorsed by more than 50 major national and international medical organizations:
Principle of social justice. The medical profession must promote justice in the health care system, including the fair distribution of health care resources. Physicians should work actively to eliminate discrimination in health care, whether based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, or any other social category
It seems pretty clear that physicians have answered the call, but somehow, in spite of opinion polling showing how highly the public values our opinion, nobody has noticed.