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Survey: Support for national health insurance grows among physicians

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We can stop taking everyone else’s word for how U.S. physicians feel about national health insurance. When surveyed, 59 percent say they now support national health insurance, a 10 percent increase in support from five years ago.

According to a survey undertaken last year by Indiana University School of Medicine and published in the April 1 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, support for national health insurance is strongest among psychiatrists (83 percent), pediatric sub-specialists (71 percent), emergency medicine physicians (69 percent), general pediatricians (65 percent), general internists (64 percent) and family physicians (60 percent).

Support from general surgeons has doubled since 2002, with 55 percent now backing national health insurance.

“Across the board, more physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care, and a majority now support national insurance as the remedy,” said study co-author Ronald T. Ackermann, associate director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at Indiana University’s School of Medicine.

There were some exceptions. Less than 50 percent of surgical specialists, radiologists, and anesthesiologists support establishment of a national health insurance program.

There are an estimated 47 million uninsured in the United States, according to the latest Census, and another 50 million who are underinsured. 

A Medicare-for-all type system was proposed by Physicians for a National Health program, a national organization with 15,000 members, in 2003, and published in JAMA. It was the impetus for the proposed National Health Insurance Act (HR 676) introduced in 2006 by U.S. Representatives John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).  

Even with physician support and a clear majority of support from citizens, a national health care program is more likely to come from incremental enactment through individual states rather than through federal legislation. HR 676 is stagnant with 88 co-sponsors. No new action has been taken on the bill since February 2007 when it was referred to two subcommittees on health. 

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About the survey: 

  • 5000 questionnaires were mailed to physicians in the American Medical Association’s database
  • Response rate of 51 percent (2,193 completed surveys)
  • Results: 59 supported legislation to create a national health insurance program, 9 percent were neutral and 32 percent opposed
  • Among those that opposed, 14 percent supported incremental reforms

Source: Carroll AE, Ackerman RT. Support for National Health Insurance Among U.S. Physicians: 5 Years Later Ann Intern Med.2008; 148: 566-567

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Kathlyn Stone is a Minnesota-based writer covering science and medicine, health care and related policies.-She publishes, a health and science news site.
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