President Barack Obama bluntly told doctors Monday he is against their highest legislative priority limiting malpractice awards and earned a smattering of boos from an audience he was here to court for his health care overhaul plans.
Pushing anew to reshape the nation's health care delivery system and extend coverage to the millions who don't have it, Obama went before the annual meeting of the American Medical Association and took on others who take issue with parts of his plan as well.
But the malpractice issue is the most provocative with this audience, which chafes at the heavy expense of malpractice insurance.
Obama started by sympathizing with doctors "who feel like they are constantly looking over their shoulder for fear of lawsuits" and said he recognizes any health overhaul will be hard to accomplish without changing that. The crowd burst into loud support.
"Don't get too excited yet. ... Just hold onto your horses here, guys," Obama said as he prepared to deliver what he knew would be disappointing news.
"I want to be honest with you. I'm not advocating caps on malpractice awards," the president said, greeted by a smattering of boos, a remarkable public response to a popular president accustomed to cheering audiences.
He added, without offering specifics, that "excessive defensive medicine" that is conducted out of fear of lawsuits and that increases health costs should be curbed.
Though he offered no support for limiting lawsuits, Obama raised the antennae of trial lawyers' groups just by mentioning the issue.
The Center for Justice and Democracy, which says it advocates for injured consumers, attorneys and others, released a letter to Obama signed by 64 survivors of medical malpractice saying they were "extremely concerned that the rights of medical malpractice patients may be stripped away as part of your national health care proposal."
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