PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poll: Doctors Among Public Option's Biggest Fans


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment. I'm Renee Montagne.

Doctors, by a large majority, support adding a government run health insurance program that would compete with private insurance. That's according to a new survey. What's been called the public option continues to be one of the most contentious issues in the health care debate, but the survey shows that doctors are already used to dealing with government run insurance.

NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: In the survey, nearly three-quarters of doctors said they favor a public option. Co-author Dr. Salomeh Keyhani is a researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Dr. SALOMEH KEYHANI (Researcher, Mount Sinai School of Medicine): The results of the study demonstrated that the majority of physicians support a public option in the United States of America.

SHAPIRO: That included the 63 percent who say they'd like to see patients get a choice of public or private insurance and another 10 percent who favor a public option only. They'd like to see a single-payer system. When the public in general is surveyed, support for a public option has run between 50 and 70 percent.

Co-author Dr. Alex Federman - he is also at Mount Sinai - says it shouldn't be a surprise that doctors favor a public option in numbers even greater than Americans in general.

Dr. ALEX FEDERMAN (Researcher, Mount Sinai School of Medicine): Probably the most important reason is grounded in physicians' experience with Medicare.

SHAPIRO: Doctors already have lots of experience with that government-run health insurance. The survey also asked the more than 2,100 doctors about how they compared Medicare with private insurance.

Dr. FEDERMAN: Physicians favored Medicare when it came to delivering care to patients. They thought Medicare was better when it came to autonomy and their decision making and their ability to get patients the care that they thought the patients needed.

SHAPIRO: There was plenty that doctors said they don't like about Medicare. They said private insurance was better in terms of reducing paperwork, how much they got paid and how quickly. Dr. Varshasb Broumand, a Texas nephrologists, has seen some of his kidney transplant patients deal with one of the biggest absurdities in Medicare.

The government program will pay for a patient's expensive kidney transplant, but it won't keep paying for the drugs a patient needs to keep their body from rejecting the transplant.

Dr. VARSHASB BROUMAND (Nephrologist): After three years, they're out of luck because Medicare will stop paying for their medications.

SHAPIRO: Twenty-seven percent of doctors in the survey said they support private insurance only. They don't trust government to get it right. But Broumand, despite his problems with Medicare, isn't one of them. He supports a public option.

Dr. BROUMAND: If you have choices and options, you find the plan that best suits you. It provides healthy competition to lower costs and hopefully provide more efficient and better services.

SHAPIRO: Lots of the doctors in the survey said that they sometimes run into problems with Medicare. But Keyhani, who's spoken publicly in support of a public option, says doctors she spoke to for the survey often worry more about their uninsured patients.

Dr. KEYHANI: So many of Americans are uninsured and physicians have to take care of uninsured patients. A public option would sort of help guarantee that most people had coverage. And I think that's very important to physicians who wake up in the middle of the night, they go to the hospital and they take care of patients and are not reimbursed. So having a guarantee of reimbursement of some sort I think is very appealing to most physicians.

SHAPIRO: The new survey was published online by The New England Journal of Medicine and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health care organization that favors health reform.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And we should note that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also supports NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joseph Shapiro is a NPR News Investigations correspondent.