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White House Goes to the Doctor to Help Promote Health Care Reform

Source: Associated Press

Posted on 27 Aug 2009

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In an attempt to regain momentum on President Barack Obama's health care reform plan, the White House is asking doctors to help promote and support its drive to overhaul health care.

White House health advisers held an hour-long conference call with close to 3,000 physicians and officials of their professional groups in which they tried drumming up support by answering questions and describing the administration's goals, participants said.

Before the call, the White House e-mailed a 12-page booklet to medical associations titled "Doctors for Health Insurance Reform." The brochure stated the administration's case for revamping the nation's health care system and suggested ways doctors could call attention to the issue.

Among the suggestions: Hosting local events on health care, giving tours of hospitals or designating a "Health Insurance Reform Week" during which events could be staged around the country.

"There are numerous ways that you can advance the president's goal of enacting health insurance reform this year," the booklet said.

It added, "As always, thank you for your help!"

The White House effort comes as the administration attempts to win public and congressional support for its health care proposal. Throughout August, these efforts have been drowned out by media coverage of unruly opponents shouting down lawmakers at local town hall meetings. Polls have also show growing public skepticism about President Obama's plans.

The public has also been subjected to competing television advertising campaigns.

But in response to the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, the conservative group that has been the biggest-spending advertiser against the Democratic health care effort said yesterday that it was temporarily suspending its television commercials attacking the proposal.

One of the two ads by Conservatives for Patients Rights was airing in the Boston area and on Martha's Vineyard, where the President is vacationing. The other was being shown nationally.

"Now is a time for respect, reflection and remembrance," the group's president, Rick Scott, said in a statement announcing the suspension of ads.

The White House outreach to doctors underscores how it is relying on help from interest groups who support its goals, even as it frequently criticizes others who have fought parts of President Obama's plan. The insurance industry - which strongly opposes Democratic proposals to offer optional government-run insurance coverage - has been a favorite target of the President.

"The White House has been reaching out to the broad coalitions supporting health insurance reform and last night's call with 3,000 doctors was just another part of that effort," said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin.

The White House has had similar conference calls with nursing and senior citizen groups.

The White House booklet said when doctors stage events backing President Obama's plan, "we want to hear about it and make sure others know of your work."

It also guides doctors to information on White House web sites, suggests questions they could ask at discussions they stage and provides talking points they can use to round up support, such as, "The status quo is threatening your health care."

At a time when the White House has had problems honing a concise message to sell its plan, the brochure said the "top line message" is "health care stability and security for all Americans." This includes new consumer protections for patients, reduced costs and giving people a choice of care and insurance, it said.

In a publicly posted blog yesterday, American Medical Association President J. James Rohack said the call made clear "the need to keep the dialogue ongoing between physicians and those within the Washington Beltway." He declined to describe the call, which was supposed to be private.

Others who participated said White House officials on the call, including health adviser Kavita Patel, seemed to break no new ground. They said the officials reiterated the administration's interest in several proposals, such as doing something about scheduled cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors.

Groups included in the call included the American College of Physicians and the American College of Surgeons.