CHICAGO -- Doctors gathered in Chicago for the American Medical Association's annual meeting this week are increasingly finding themselves at the uncomfortable center of a national debate over "Medicare for All."
A group of doctors, nurses and medical students protested the meeting, criticizing the association's opposition to Medicare for All -- the idea of expanding Medicare to cover all Americans. And on Monday, the doctors at the meeting heard a speech by Seema Verma, head of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a Trump appointee who devoted a chunk of her talk to what she sees as problems with the proposal.
She told the audience, to applause, that Medicare for All would lead to higher taxes, lower payments for doctors and rationing of health care, among other things.
"We are deeply committed to helping those who need it, but while doing that, we must put the patients and their doctors in the driver's seat to make decisions about their care, not the government," Verma said.
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So far the AMA has stood by its opposition to Medicare for All, also sometimes referred to as a single-payer system or universal health care, even as it's become a hot topic ahead of the 2020 presidential race. Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., unveiled a bill earlier this year to move to a single-payer health care system. About 56% of Americans surveyed earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would favor all Americans getting their insurance from a single government plan.
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Supporters say they're weary of the growing costs of health insurance, provided by private insurers, and restrictions often placed by insurers on which doctors can be seen and what will be covered. Those opposed to the concept, such as the AMA, say choice is key to health care improvements, and they worry about the government's ability to effectively administer and fund such a huge system.
"The AMA is absolutely in favor of having every American have health care that needs to be of good quality and affordable," AMA President Dr. Barbara McAneny said in an interview. The AMA supports the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which mandated that all Americans have health insurance and barred discrimination based on preexisting conditions, among other things. "We just aren't certain that Medicare for All is the right vehicle."
McAneny said the association shares the frustration many feel with the current health care system, saying, "We cannot continue to spend this quantity of money and create bankruptcies just because someone gets sick."
But the association believes choice in health care is a better way to go than Medicare for All. McAneny worries about what might happen to a government-run health care system during government shutdowns and about whether it would pay enough to sustain medical care. Now, government health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid tend to reimburse doctors less than private insurers.