A study released this week in the New England journal of Medicine found that a large majority of physicians support the expansion of publicly-backed health insurance programs. The survey, funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, polled over 5000 randomly-selected physicians from a broad range of specialties, practice setting, and regions, and the findings represent the opinions of more than 2100 respondents contacted between June – Sept. 2009.

The large majority of respondents – 73 percent – supported a public option in health reform; most surveyed (62 percent) said they think health reform should include a combination of public and private options, mirroring the principles President Obama, three House committees and a Senate committee have all put forward.  A majority of American Medical Association members surveyed also supported a public option.

And in a finding that rebuffs some reform opponents’ claims that expanding or fortifying Medicare would hurt practicing doctors, there was strong, cross-specialty support for expanding Medicare to those ages 55-64.  Check out the paper’s helpful bar graph to see what we mean.

The authors acknowledge that though the American Medical Association’s stand on reform has wavered and changed during health care debates, past and present, it has most recently come out in support of a House reform proposal that includes significant coverage expansions through subsidized private insurance and a public option.   These findings demonstrate that this position is now more consistent with individual physicians’ views on health reform today.  The authors write:

Physicians’ groups have strongly influenced efforts in health care reform throughout modern U.S. history and in so doing may have often obscured the collective views of individual physicians across the spectrum of specialties, interests, and regional affiliations. Given the enormity of the current effort to reform health care and its potential effect on future generations of Americans, policymakers need to hear the views of the whole range of physicians on the key elements of reform.
Both authors, physicians at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, are members of the National Physicians Alliance. You can hear them talk about their findings on NPR’s All Things Considered.

–Kate Petersen