Call it white coat rage.
With the backing of the country's largest doctors' lobby, the American Medical Association, President Obama signed major health care reform into law Tuesday. The Senate is putting the finishing touches on some refinements to that legislation in a separate bill.
But one rump group of doctors says that bill will be the road to ruin for their profession and the country. Like others opposed to the Democrats' prescription for overhauling the U.S. health system, they say this is the beginning, not the end, of their fight.
"A lot of what we saw made us want to vomit," said Scott Barbour, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia and board member at Docs 4 Patient Care, of the health care bill. "This law was simply unacceptable. We cannot practice medicine."
The Docs came to town this week to discuss policy and lobby members of Congress. They hosted a press conference Wednesday at the National Press Club that featured Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who heads the Republican Study Committee, an influential organization of conservative House Republicans, and Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York who helped popularize the idea of "death panels" in Obama's health care plan.
The doctors, who say their ranks number more than 3,000 nationwide, argue that the law would put government officials, not practitioners, in charge of medical decisions. They said that the mandate to insure so many new patients while limiting rate hikes would lead to rationing of care.
"We're here to tell what the unintended consequences are to a one-size-fits-all, rushed, Band-Aid approach to health care reform," said Tod Rubin, a Georgia anesthesiologist.
The group claims to be nonpartisan but has embraced some ideas firmly within the Republican Party's talking points.
Rubin, for instance, says the law will leave "a wide open door for a single-payer system." He says the chronically uninsured really number 10 to 12 million, not the widely cited 45 million figure.
While the conference's speakers attacked Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, whose last-minute support for the bill helped clinch final passage, the Docs say they're not interested in getting sucked into such broader issues — at least initially.
"We're not paying attention to the abortion issue," Rubin said. Then he continued: "Stupak basically sold his soul."
The Docs dismiss the AMA as just another special interest that does not represent practicing physicians who are essentially running small businesses. The AMA controls a Washington-based lobby and media "machine" to steer the health care debate, said Fred Shessel, a urologist and vice president of the group. But he said the Docs aren't trying to become the Tea Party branch of their profession.
"What we do attract are doctors who actually see patients," Shessel said. He said their efforts are guided by altruism, not money — pointing out that the new law could pump nearly $1 trillion into the health care industry.
"If it were about the money, we'd be in favor of this," he said.
The AMA says that its structure includes a wide range of physicians that shape its policies. While the organization supported this legislation, it is seeking changes to it, including medical liability reform and changes to the new law's Independent Payment Advisory Board — aims that Docs 4 Patient Care supports as well.