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Disinformation and Media Spin: Part 1

Stanley Feld M.D., FACP, MACE

A recent headline in the Washington Post declared that “Majority of U.S. Doctors Back National Insurance Plan”. It should be noted that the original article was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the official journal of the American College of Physicians, in 2003. A 5 year follow-up letter was published with incomplete data on April 1, 2008 reevaluating physician attitudes. The Washington Post article quoting a press release stated that the 124,000member American College of Physicians, the nation's largest medical specialty group, endorsed a single-payer national health insurance program.

In 1993 the American College of Physicians generated significant backlash from member physicians all over the country. Many physicians quit the American College of Physicians. I recall the CEO, at that time, was forced to resign over the issue of calling for a single party payer.

I can’t believe that the executive committee of the American College of Physicians has once again tried to manipulate public opinion through the media by originally publishing the 2003 article and updating it with a letter from the same authors in 2008.

In my opinion, the original survey was a poor study. The original study and follow-up letter further contaminates the Annals of Internal Medicine and American College of Physicians’ credibility as spokesmen for practicing primary care internists.

Our sound bite society would believe the media headlines “Majority of U.S. doctors back national insurance plan”. The message is clear: The majority of U.S. physicians advocate a single party payer system.

Neither government nor the healthcare insurance industry has appreciated the value of primary care physicians or the importance of the patient physician relationship. Both reimburse inadequately for cognitive therapy. They have not wanted to reward the therapeutic value of the problem solving ability of primary care physicians.

Primary care physicians who have had any practice experience know the difficulties in collecting for services rendered from the government. They have also experienced an endless string of price reductions. Primary care physicians have faced the same problems with the private healthcare insurance industry.

I appreciate that the price of health care is sky rocketing. However physicians” fees are falling and not sky rocketing. I have pointed out that facilitator stakeholders are benefiting more than the primary stakeholders (patients and physicians).

It is hard to believe the majority of physicians in this country want the government (Medicare) as the single party payer for medical care.

The Washington Post article states “A majority of American doctors now support the concept of national health insurance, which represents a shift in thinking over the past five years, a new survey finds."
“Typically, national health insurance plans involve a single, federally administered social insurance fund that guarantees health coverage for everyone. In most cases, these plans eliminate or substantially reduce the role of private insurance companies.”

Unfortunately the media report what the press release tells them has been found in the study.

“Physicians For A National Health Program” published this press release. The Washington Post copied the press release.

This is disinformation with media spin at its height. The public usually accepts the data as valid findings when presented by the media.

The study had 2,193 physicians. The physicians responding to the survey are supposed to represent 733,183 physicians in America.

"A survey conducted last year of 2,193 physicians across the United States found that 59 percent support "government legislation to establish national health insurance," while 32 percent oppose it, and 9 percent are neutral. In 2002, a similar survey found that 49 percent of physicians supported the concept, while 40 percent opposed it."

A larger sample size with a better survey questionnaire might have come to a different conclusion. If one accepts the survey sample and sample size as valid the study shows the percentage of physicians who want universal healthcare coverage but not universal coverage under a government run single party payer system. The press release leads us to the single party payer preference.

“Typically, national health insurance plans involve a single, federally administered social insurance fund that guarantees health coverage for everyone.”

The AMA has recommended universal coverage, as do most physicians. The problem of the uninsured is large. However, neither the AMA nor most physicians in private practice recommend the government as a single party payer. Private practitioners understand the problems inherent in government run organizations as do most consumers
In the next blog I will publish the original data and my commentary on the survey results. It will be clear how the data is manipulated to reach conclusions that should not be reached.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” are, mine and mine alone.

  • Gerald

    Fair enough.
    Raises your anxiety level, doesn’t it? Being a physician is something you are “locked in” to. While no-one forces you to practice medicine, if you quit you’ll have wasted about a decade of education and training.
    That’s an invested, sunk cost : if you could have put that level of effort into another career, you could probably make almost as much money as a physician. But you can’t go back in time and reclaim your sunk investment.
    Economically, I just don’t see how the government can take over everything. While people complain about the state of affairs now, if the U.S. medical industry were basically a giant V.A. hospital it would be un-imaginably worse.
    How would they make enough doctors go to work? My economics classes show that people respond to incentives. There is currently a growing shortage of physicians as it is.
    If you significantly cut the pay of practicing physicians, many of them would work fewer hours or retire.

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