A Review of Obama’s Speech to the AMA


The AMA Section Council on Emergency Medicine

The AMA Section Council on Emergency Medicine

ACEP President Nick Jouriles shares his thoughts on President Obama’s speech to the AMA House of Delegates yesterday

President Obama was warmly received by the physicians at the AMA Annual Meeting earlier today. Like many in the crowd, I went with mixed feelings. Our current system is not sustainable, we all know that. But would he actually speak specifically to some- even one – of the critical issues in emergency medicine today? What are his plans, how will our issues be addressed, and where do we go from here?

For starters, the President told us that he is not trying to create a state run plan. “When you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run health care, know this–they are not telling the truth,” Mr. Obama emphasized.

But his plan does have a public component and includes: an emphasis on preventative care, widespread use of electronic health records, and changes in the health insurance industry including a new “exchange” where individuals and businesses can purchase a health plan. That “exchange” includes a government option.

Like many in the audience I was wondering about President Obama’s emphasis on wasteful spending in health care. He does not lay the blame at the foot of physicians, but the constant drumbeat coming from his administration on this issue is unsettling. Can inefficiencies be wrung from the system? Can we streamline some of our processes? Can things be done differently? Yes, yes and yes. But to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars? I don’t see it. Most emergency physicians don’t see it, and neither will most Americans.

But then, he brought up an issue we can all agree on. I am encouraged that he is open to changes in the medical liability system. That was a position I had not expected from this Administration, and although he does not take a strong position, it is a start. President Obama said, “[W]hile I’m not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who’ve been wrongfully harmed, I do think we need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, let doctors focus on practicing medicine, and encourage broader use of evidence-based guidelines. That’s how we can scale back the excessive defensive medicine reinforcing our current system of more treatment rather than better care.”

Like I said, a start.

We will also have to look long and hard at proposals affecting the physician payment system. In addressing the issue, Mr. Obama said, “We need to bundle payments so you aren’t paid for every single treatment you offer a patient with a chronic condition like diabetes, but instead are paid for how you treat the overall disease.”

How that plays out for emergency medicine will be key, but given our 25 year history with EMTALA, where many hospitals receive extra funds for indigent care while we do not , his emphasis on this is not a good sign.

Finally, it was disappointing not to hear emergency medicine mentioned specifically. We saw how our emergency departments were affected with the “worried well” of H1N1. And the New York Times published my letter to the editor addressing that point. But the White House has hit the mute button for now- or until the next epidemic or natural disaster occurs- regarding the crisis in emergency medicine.

It was a good speech and a good start. It was great to be in the audience. Now it’s time for Congress to get down to business and find solutions that we can all believe in. And time for the nation’s emergency physicians to stand up and make our voice heard. Our patients need us.

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