The news was unwelcome. But the timing couldn't have been better.
Physician lobbies like the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons (ACS) announced their support for the House Democrats' health care reform plan at the very moment that Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf explained why they are supporting it.
Yesterday, Elmendorf had the following exchange with Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND):
Elmendorf: ...In the legislation that has been reported, we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount. And on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs.
Conrad: So the cost curve in your judgement is being bent, but it is being bent the wrong way. Is that correct?
Elmendorf: The way I would put it is that the curve is being raised...
That's right. The docs are supporting the Democrats' health care plans because the Democrats are buying them off.
The American College of Surgeons boasts that its executive committee voted unanimously to support the House Democrats' bill because it would increase Medicare's price controls so that over the next 10 years, Medicare would pay physicians $284 billion more than under current law. Reminds me of something New Democrat David Kendall wrote in 1994:
Not surprisingly, some specialists welcome price controls — which would lock in their high income — and fear competition, which might depress it. For example, the American College of Surgeons has endorsed the single-payer approach, which would control prices at the current level and preserve surgeons' relative value among physicians.
Of course, to pay off the docs, the Democrats will have to rob even more people than they otherwise would.