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Health Care Watch

By Dan Froomkin
12:58 PM ET, 06/16/2009

In a nearly hour-long speech to the American Medical Association yesterday, President Obama tried to persuade doctors that elements of his plan that some doctors think of as bitter medicine will, indeed, be good for them.

Robert Pear and Jackie Calmes write in the New York Times:

Opening a week in which health care will dominate attention in Congress, the president's speech on Monday was the latest example of an oft-used ploy to press his case: appearing before skeptical audiences, confident of his powers of persuasion but willing as well to say what his listeners do not want to hear.

Mr. Obama spoke just days after the A.M.A. had signaled opposition to his proposal for a public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers as part of a menu of choices, much like the one for members of Congress.

"The public option is not your enemy," Mr. Obama said. "It is your friend, I believe." Saying it would "keep the insurance companies honest," the president dismissed as "illegitimate" the claims of critics that a public insurance option amounts to "a Trojan horse for a single-payer system" run by the government.

Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post:

The president's good-news, bad-news message to the physicians marked what White House senior adviser David Axelrod described as a higher level of engagement by the president on his top domestic priority.

For months, Obama remained on the sidelines of the health-care debate because "he felt it was important to not be too proscriptive," Axelrod said in an interview. "Now we're into a different phase, where decisions are being made very quickly, so it's time to weigh in to a greater degree."

The Obama strategy... is to present each major stakeholder with an enticement in return for a bit of sacrifice.

Of course, it may not be all smooth sailing. Obama offered doctors support for efforts to reduce malpractice lawsuits -- but stopped short of endorsing a cap on awards. As Connolly writes:

James Rohack, the incoming AMA president, said physicians must receive some type of legal protection if they are going to be expected to reduce extraneous tests and treatments, as Obama urged.

"Unless we have protection in the courtroom for not ordering a test, we're going to order those additional tests," Rohack told reporters after the speech.

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