Health care reform heading for key debates

TUPELO – Mississippi physicians got a presidential briefing Saturday in Tupelo.
American Medical Association President Dr. Jim Rohack had a lot of news to share with the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians at its annual conference at the BancorpSouth Conference Center in Tupelo this weekend.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday unveiled a nearly 2,000-page health care reform bill, and debate by the full body is ongoing. The Senate is expected to unveil its own bill later this month.
If both houses of Congress pass health care reform legislation, then the versions will have to be reconciled in a conference bill that goes back to both the House and Senate for a vote.
“I think we will have a bill,” Rohack said. “But I don’t know if it will be in December or in the spring.”
Often lost in the debate over the cost of health care reform is the current trajectory for health care costs, Rohack said.
“If we do nothing, it will actually make America worse off,” Rohack said. “In 10 years, we’re on track to spend $4.8 trillion, if we don’t do anything.”
The key health reform goal for the AMA is to get Americans the best value for their money spent on health care, Rohack said. Key tenets are a voluntary system that provides affordable coverage for all Americans, preserves choice, increases access to wellness and preventive medicine and keeps medical decisions between doctors and patients.

House bill
The House bills unveiled Thursday have many elements supported by the AMA, Rohack said.
• Increased support for prevention and wellness.
• Advanceable tax credit to help families with lower incomes purchase health insurance.
• Investment in physician work force.
• Ending pre-existing condition provisions in health insurance.
• Increased support for primary care providers and rural medicine.
• Health insurance exchange.
• Public insurance plan with rates that are negotiated instead of based on Medicare reimbursement.
• Separate bill that corrects Medicare payment formula for physicians.

Mississippi dissent
A lot has happened since Rohack spoke to the Mississippi Medical Association at its July conference in Oxford.
Many Mississippi physicians were upset by the AMA’s support of the original House bill. A few weeks ago, the Mississippi association voted to de-unify with the national organization, meaning Mississippi Medical Association members will no longer automatically be members of the American Medical Association. Mississippi was the last state chapter to be unified.
In addressing a question Saturday, Rohack clarified the AMA supported, not endorsed, the House Bill 3200 because it contained several key provisions like addressing insurance denial over pre-existing conditions, liability reform and Medicare funding formula fixes.
“Other people misinterpreted what was said as a blanket endorsement,” Rohack said.

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal