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Analysis: Courting doctors in health care battle

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 Now the bill's supporters are making a play to lock in the American Medical Association, the organization that says it represents 250,000 doctors and medical students in every state and congressional district. The principal enticement, a $247 billion measure making its way to the Senate floor, aims to wipe out a scheduled 21 percent rate cut for doctors treating Medicare patients and replace it with a permanent, predictable system for future fee increases.

Nor does it seem eager to soft-pedal another of its own top priorities, legislation to restrict medical malpractice payments.

"We continue to press for significant medical liability reform because we know that is a very important contributor to unnecessary health care costs," Dr. J. James Rohack, president of the AMA, said in an interview in which he declined repeatedly to say whether the organization had been asked to back off.

Higher payments to doctors and curbs on medical malpractice awards "in my mind are separate issues. I can't speak for how other people are putting this whole thing together," he added.

Evidently not in the minds of Democrats. Several officials say that request, too, was conveyed to the AMA and other doctor groups in last week's session with Reid. Not coincidentally, any limitations in medical malpractice awards are anathema to trial lawyers, whom Democrats count as among their most reliable and generous campaign supporters.

The dance is one of many in the long-running health care debate, the issue that has consumed Congress, the administration and a vast constellation of outside groups for months.

Take the Senate Finance Committee,

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