AMA endorses Senate healthcare bill; vote looms

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The American Medical Association (AMA) has endorsed the Senate version of healthcare reform.

The AMA announced its support of the legislation Monday after Senate Democrats, with not a vote to spare, broke a  Republican filibuster and essentially guaranteed the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (H.R. 3590) in the Senate.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the legislation will cost about $871 billion over the first 10 years—spending that would be offset by $483 billion in spending savings and $498 billion in new revenues over the period. The CBO said the bill would reduce the deficit by about $132 billion between 2010 and 2019. Under the legislation, 94 percent of legal U.S. residents under the age of 65 would be covered by health insurance, compared  to 83 percent currently covered.

“All Americans deserve affordable, high-quality health coverage so they can get the medical care they need–and this bill advances many of our priority issues for achieving the vision of a health system that works for patients and physicians,” said AMA President-elect Cecil B. Wilson, MD.

According to the association, the Senate bill includes a number of key provisions that will improve choice and access to affordable health insurance coverage, eliminate denials for pre-existing conditions, increase coverage for preventive and wellness care and further the development of comparative effectiveness research.

“The AMA communicated closely with the Senate about items it supported and items of concern in the prior version of the Senate bill,” said Dr. Wilson.  “We are pleased that the manager’s amendment addresses several issues of concern to AMA.  It increases payments to primary care physicians and general surgeons in underserved areas while no longer cutting payments to other physicians.  It eliminates the tax on physician services for cosmetic surgery and drops the proposed physician enrollment fee for Medicare.”

The AMA also said it would continue to press for the permanent repeal of the current Medicare physician payment formula.

The Senate vote on the healthcare bill is scheduled at 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning. If it passes, the bill would need to be reconciled with the legislation adopted by the House of Representatives last month. And there are major differences between the two pieces of legislation, including a public option provision in the House version.

In addition to the AMA, two hospital associations came out in support of the Senate bill. American Hospital Association President Rich Umbdenstock sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D. Nev., praising the bill’s approach to “increasing competition in the insurance market and providing more choices to patients, utilizing non-governmental, nonprofit entities to provide coverage and rejecting a further expansion of public programs that do not compensate adequately for the cost of care."

And Charles Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, also sent a letter to Reid supporting the bill. “The FAH is particularly pleased that H.R. 3590, as amended, would increase access to affordable, quality coverage; create market-based exchanges with private coverage and subsidies for lower income Americans; and implement important delivery reforms such as value-based purchasing, a prospective ban on self-referral to physician-owned hospitals, and voluntary pilots to test bundled payments across an episode of care,” Kahn wrote.