Doctors for Public Option

A new poll shows that doctors are among the biggest supporters in the United States of a public option in the health care overhaul. One reason: Many say they've had largely good experiences with Medicare.

Among all the players in the health care debate, doctors may be the least understood about where they stand on some of the key issues around changing the health care system. Now, a new survey finds some surprising results: A large majority of doctors say there should be a public option.

When polled, "nearly three-quarters of physicians supported some form of a public option, either alone or in combination with private insurance options," says Dr. Salomeh Keyhani. She and Dr. Alex Federman, both internists and researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, conducted a random survey, by mail and by phone, of 2,130 doctors. They surveyed them from June right up to early September.

Most doctors — 63 percent — say they favor giving patients a choice that would include both public and private insurance. That's the position of President Obama and of many congressional Democrats. In addition, another 10 percent of doctors say they favor a public option only; they'd like to see a single-payer health care system. Together, the two groups add up to 73 percent.

When the American public is polled, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent favor a public option. So that means that when compared to their patients, doctors are bigger supporters of a public option, NPR reports.

In the meantime, the possible inclusion of a public option -- a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers -- is one of the most divisive parts of the reform that is President Obama's top domestic legislative priority.

When given a three-way choice among private plans that use tax credits or subsidies to help the poor buy private insurance; a new public health insurance plan such as Medicare; or a mix of the two; 63 percent of doctors supported a mix, 27 percent said they only wanted private options, and just 10 percent said they exclusively wanted public options.

Medicare is the federal health insurance plan for people aged over 65 and some disabled people.

"The result shows that physicians see this system is broken and needs to be fixed," Dr. John Lumpkin, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which sponsored the survey, said in a telephone interview, Reuters reports.

It was also reported, expansion of Medicare to Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 years was also supported by a majority (58.3%) of respondents. This support was similar across all four specialty groups. The concept of allowing people younger than 65 to buy into Medicare has been proposed several times to lawmakers in the past. Based on US Census Bureau data, about four million people between ages 55 and 64 do not have health insurance, and individuals in this age group are more likely to have serious medical problems and difficulty finding affordable health insurance coverage, according to Kaiser Health News/Philadelphia Inquirer.

The apparent willingness by physicians to accept a government-run health insurance plan as part of the healthcare reform package goes against the position originally stated by the American Medical Association, which has approximately 250,000 members. However, the AMA recently noted that it supports a House proposal for healthcare reform that includes a public health insurance option, eMaxHealth reported.

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