Bioethics, debates, government medicine, health care funding, medical ethics, medical finance, politics, public health, public policy

Playing doctor with the White House

Who’s playing doctor with the White House: Another example of the lack of openness in the dealings of the Obama Administration

(Informed consent blurb: Organizing for America, etc., along with all the White House websites, are collecting data including email and other information from everyone who visits or contacts their sites. I got a couple of those emails from David Axelrod last month.

Don’t worry – they already have my data. I used to email President Bill Clinton at least once a month and ask him to resign for the sake of our daughters – they are about the same age – because he’d set the women’s movement back 50 years. He never answered. However, it occurs to me now that maybe that’s why I was named to the Bush Administration’s National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women.

On Thursday, September 17, 2009, I was web-surfing and searching Google news hits on the September 12th March on Washington and health care reform when I found information about a conference call between “Doctors for America,” the White House “Office of Public Engagement” and doctors like me who somehow found out about the conference call.

I called in, but wasn’t called on to ask my questions, so I re-wrote them as an essay (see below) and emailed it to I’m also sending the essay to the White House OPE.

When I started writing up my notes from the call, it finally occurred to me that – even though there was no attempt at disclosure – there might be a connection between “Drs for America,” “Organizing for America” (whose website address is still “ ,” the same url once used by – and the remains of – “Obama for America,” the Barack Obama campaign machine.

I was slow to catch on, but I was right: The leadership at Doctors for America is made up of nearly the same roster of men and women who, in 2008, were the leadership of “Doctors for Obama” in 2008. Common names are Vivek Murthy, MD MBA, Mandy Krauthamer, MD MPH, Nikhil Wagle, MD, Alex Blum, MD, and Jay Bhatt, DO MPH

And, I was wrong: there’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the “Doctors for Obama” leadership page that says “Not affiliated with Obama for America.” (Yeah, right.)

In fact, former Obama Administration transition chief John Podesta’s “Center for American Progress” funds the group :

May 04, 2009
‘Doctors for America’ launches

This may not wind up being decisive in the health care fight, but the organizing gap between the two sides continues to widen.
Sen. Max Baucus and the Center for American Progress Action Fund are announcing a new group on a conference call later this morning: Doctors for America, which is a reincarnation of Doctors for Obama, an arm of the Obama campaign that boasted more than 10,000 members.
The question of patients’ relationships with their doctors is always a flashpoint in debating changes to the health care system, so doctors are often particularly credible messengers.
Today they’ll “release new reports detailing the depth and breadth of America’s health care crisis and announce a new effort to amplify physicians’ voices in support of health care reform,” according to the advisory.
By Ben Smith 11:07 AM

Here’s the bio on the President and Co-founder, Vivek Murthy, MD MBA, at the Center for American Progress website:

Vivek Murthy is an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an Instructor at Harvard Medical School. He received his undergraduate degree in Biochemical Sciences from Harvard University, his MD from the Yale School of Medicine, and his MBA from the Yale School of Management. He completed his residency training in Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Vivek is the co-founder of VISIONS and the Swasthya Project, international health non-profit organizations focused on HIV/AIDS education and women’s health, respectively. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Epernicus, LLC a web-based professional networking service for individual researchers and scientific institutions. Vivek’s past research has focused on the participation of women and minorities in cancer clinical trials; his current research interests include physician satisfaction and burnout. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Vivek served as a member of the Obama Health Policy Advisory Committee and the Obama New England Steering Committee.

Notes on the Conference Call

I couldn’t catch all the names and I am not very good at telling who was speaking, but did try to take some notes from the opening statements. The quotations are the actual words of the speakers, the rest is my own interpretation and from memory.

The moderators talked about the “public option” as though it’s a done deal and strongly pitched it as just a way to provide health care for people who have lost their insurance.

We were told that everyone will be required to have insurance, and that businesses will be asked to “chip in their part.”

The White House has a plan to fix the SGR that has been pushed off over and over. In fact, there are plans for a “complete reform of the physician payment system.” without incentives for doing more procedures.

The President has given instructions to begin the medical liability demonstration projects to find a way to decrease defensive medicine while “mitigating risks to patients.”

We were told that we are closer than we’ve ever been to health care reform this year.

The moderators were surprised by the second doctor who said he was from the former Soviet Union and that the public option would soon become the only option. They were adamant that the public option is not a pathway to single payer. (And besides, we all know that being paid by and regulated to the teeth by the government is not at all like working for the government.)

Later, one of the docs who called in asked specifically about the news stories that the public option was finished and the White House representative reminded us that the legislation is not written, yet. He was adamant that we shouldn’t rule the public option out and that we should advocate with our patients and fellow doctors for that option.

One doctor asked about the effect on doctors with concierge or boutique practices and the other doctors who “opted out.” The answer from one of the men was that these practices were just a reaction to cash pay patients who couldn’t afford insurance.

There was a lot of excitement about one doctor’s suggestion that doctors be required to give two years to a sort of National Healthcare Workforce. And huffy about the shortage of doctors that a Massachusetts doc reminded them that they’d have if all the uninsured were suddenly looking for primary care.

The woman naturopath was reassured that naturopathic primary care doctors would be evaluated by the same evidence based medicine that the traditional docs were judged by.

My letter to Doctors for America and the White House Office for Public Engagement

I’m Beverly B Nuckols, MD, the National chair of the Family Medicine Section of the Christian Medical Association as well as a member of the AMA, the Texas Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians. I’m not officially representing the above, but I believe that my opinions are shared by a large number of doctors.

Many of my colleagues and I see the Patient Centered Medical Home plans, the protocols at Mayo and other medical centers that have been praised are attempts to model a bureaucratic form of practice for large practices so that they can do what the family doctor does every day.

My experience is that government bureaucracy is not only more restrictive and punitive than private insurers, the clout of the Federal government results in undesired UNINTENDED consequences all across the board. Doctors used to be the good guys, but now we feel as though we are assumed to be guilty of abuse of the system, largely due to Federal legislation and regulation.

These result in time and money spent on our futile attempt to keep up with Medicare regulations in order to avoid charges of fraud, abuse and waste. For instance: HIPPA, National Provider Identification numbers, bullet points and check boxes, E & M’s, procedure and diagnosis codes and qualifiers that change each year, and a whole alphabet soup of regulators.

In addition, government cost control attempts in the ’90’s actually limited the numbers of graduate medical slots, while encouraging sub specialty growth in relation to numbers of primary care doctors.

Making it all worse is the fact that under current Medicare payment schemes, Family Doctors who provide the same services as sub-specialists are paid less by Medicare.

Like the laws and regulations in the past, this year’s “reform bills” and proposals are overly complicated and try to guarantee too much: school based clinics, nutrition data on menus and buffet lines, an overhaul of the federal income tax code, new lists of “enhanced penalties,” taxes, fines and the mixing of all of the above abuses with an overhaul of the Federal Income Tax.

Today’s announcement about the study of liability makes me worry that our Texas laws concerning tort reform will be over come by Federal inertia and interference.

1. Why not just look at Texas’ experience with tort reform rather than wasting time and money on new studies?

2. Is it possible to make the legislation smaller in scope so that it is focused on providing help for those patients and families who cannot afford or access medical care?

3. What plans are there to ensure training and sufficient payment for family physicians and other primary care doctors who are in the best position to coordinate care for our patients in the “Medical Home?”

Edit: added this 4th question that I believe I sent to Doctors for America:

4. Could the fines and mandates be replaced with tax incentives, removal of restrictions on Health Savings accounts, return of the major medical plans and the removal of the barriers preventing patients from owning their own health care insurance?

About bnuckols

Conservative Christian Family Doctor, promoting conservative news and views. (Hot Air under the right wing!)


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