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American Medical Association Calls Republican Health Care Plan 'Critically Flawed'


Turning now to Congress. The Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, has cleared two committees in the House of Representatives. But there's plenty of opposition. The American Medical Association calls the health care proposal critically flawed. So we called Dr. Andrew Gurman. He is the president of the AMA. And I asked him why his group is opposed to the Republican plan.

ANDREW GURMAN: The problems that we have with the bill are that it doesn't comport with some of our basic principles. And those are that people who have insurance shouldn't lose it and people who don't have it should get it. When we look at the numbers, particularly with the subsidies going forward for people to purchase insurance, those who have limited means, we just don't think that those numbers are going to be adequate for people to meaningfully purchase insurance. We know that people who don't have health insurance live sicker and die younger. And as physicians, we think that we're obligated to point that out.

SINGH: But supporters of this current proposal would argue that this goes far in cutting costs across the board when businesses get greater relief under this proposal, young people are not mandated to pay for health care coverage. And therefore, the relief that these particular groups get would actually be felt across the board. Health care costs in general would come down for the overall population. How could this be a bad thing?

GURMAN: Well, having health care costs across the board go down is not a bad thing. But if you're 60 years old and make $20,000 a year, you're not going to have health insurance. You're going to live sicker and die younger. That's a problem.

SINGH: I recall during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, which is widely known as Obamacare, a lot of physicians voiced concerns, protests that life would be a lot tougher for them. And I'm hearing similar arguments for this proposal by congressional Republicans. Can you give me an idea of how this will have a particular impact on physicians compared with how doctors or physicians were affected when Obamacare was passed?

GURMAN: Well, I think change is hard. I think that any piece of legislation that retools a sixth of the U.S. economy is going to require adaptations. And I don't know that doctors are significantly different from the rest of the world in that we don't always like change. But look, Medicare, which was passed 53 years ago, was a transformative piece of legislation. And yet 53 years later, we are still passing laws to tweak it, to make it better.

So to think that something like the Affordable Care Act would be born fully mature and ready to go to medical school is naive. We obviously have some things in it that need to be tweaked, that need to be repaired or changed. And it could be done through a repeal and replace as long as we know what the replace is going to be.

SINGH: You're an orthopedic hand surgeon based in Pennsylvania. What are you most commonly hearing from your patients about the biggest problems they encounter getting or keeping their coverage?

GURMAN: The biggest concern that my patients have right now is large deductible. You know, I see somebody who has an income of $20,000 to $30,000 a year, needs surgery to correct something and has a $6,000 or $7,000 deductible. He essentially doesn't have health insurance. The operation's going to cost less than that. But those are the kinds of things that my patients are concerned about. They're concerned that they are still one significant illness away from bankruptcy.

SINGH: Dr. Andrew Gurman is the president of the American Medical Association. He spoke to us from Altoona, Pa. Dr. Gurman, thanks so much.

GURMAN: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lakshmi Singh is a midday newscaster and a guest host for NPR, which she joined in 2000.