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Obama Missteps on Foot Amputation Pay to Surgeons

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 14, 2009

The group said Obama mischaracterized the reimbursement system by saying physicians get paid "immediately," when Medicare payment delays are common.

"As President Obama continues to pursue the healthcare reform agenda, we implore him to disengage from hyperbole and acknowledge that healthcare delivery can only be improved by recognizing that healthcare is a system in which orthopedic surgeons play a crucial role. With $849 billion of our national economy impacted by musculoskeletal conditions, orthopaedic surgeons provide care that improves lives and puts people back to work."

The CMA added in its statement that it is "committed to reforming our health system to increase access to quality care and reduce rising healthcare costs." But, it continued, "The American people must be able to trust our elected officials and the statements they make regarding healthcare.

"We urge the President to stick to the facts and avoid the kind of misleading and inflammatory rhetoric that would erode the trust and derail our efforts to increase access to quality care and control rising healthcare costs."

The comments were particularly irritating to physicians who are still reeling from the President's recent suggestion that doctors perform many unnecessary tonsillectomies because they get paid more for doing those than for prescribing medications for what might really be wrong with the patient, such as an allergy.

In July, Obama made this statement at an address to the nation:

"Right now, doctors a lot of times are forced to make decisions based on the fee payment schedule that's out there. So if you come in and you've got a bad sore throat or your child has a bad sore throat or has repeated sore throats, the doctor may look at the reimbursement system, and say to himself, 'You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid's tonsils out.'

"Now that may be the right thing to do, but I'd rather have that doctor making those decisions just based on whether you really need your kid's tonsils out, or whether it might make more sense to change, maybe they have allergies or maybe they have something else that would make a difference."

One physician who was particularly annoyed with both Obama statements is Ted Mazer, MD, a San Diego ear, nose, and throat specialist.

"His inflammatory and inaccurate comments about physician payments serve the debate on health reform poorly," Mazer says. "He needs to lead the nation with facts, not attacks and misinformation."


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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