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EDITORIAL: The unkindest cuts of all

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

President Obama's sales pitch on health care needs serious surgery. The operation should begin, according to the American College of Surgeons, by excising some of the president's smears and falsehoods.

Twice in the past four weeks, Mr. Obama has portrayed doctors, especially surgeons, as examples of people motivated more by greed than by their patients' well-being.

First came the press conference in which the president memorably suggested that doctors would choose to remove children's tonsils unnecessarily merely because they could make more money from surgery than from other treatments. Then, during his town-hall meeting on Aug. 11, Mr. Obama suggested that doctors being "reimbursed a pittance" for preventive care against obesity and diabetes may not be as diligent as if "that same diabetic ends up getting their foot amputated, that's $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 -- immediately the surgeon is reimbursed."

In short, Mr. Obama is portraying doctors as slice-happy hired guns, or rather hired knives, without real concern for their patients' health.

On Aug. 12, the American College of Surgeons fought back with a statement pronouncing itself "deeply disturbed over the uninformed public comments President Obama continues to make." First, the surgeons said, "President Obama got his facts completely wrong.... In fact, Medicare pays a surgeon [not $50,000, but] between $740 and $1,140 for a leg amputation."

Worse than the mistake about the cost of surgery was the implication that doctors are hacks. Wrote the surgeons: "The president's remarks are truly alarming... inflammatory and incorrect. . . ."

It is not just surgeons, but all doctors and medical personnel, who should take umbrage at the president's statements. Is he really suggesting that primary-care physicians will knowingly allow diabetics to deteriorate? Or that pediatricians will not treat sore throats in careful, minimally invasive ways?

Unfortunately, this tendency to invent straw men and demonize them has become a staple of the president's sales pitch. If it's not surgeons, it is the greedy insurance companies, or the greedy pharmaceutical companies -- even though the profit margins of both are far lower than the margins for most private industries. When it's not doctors or corporations, it is the previous officeholders who "got us into the mess" who "should not do a lot of talking."

Instead of falsely attacking others, Mr. Obama should stick to the merits of his own plan. We suspect he goes on the attack because his numbers -- and his claims -- just won't cut it.