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Obama Defends Government-Sponsored Health Insurance Program

With 250,000 members nationwide, the AMA is the nation's largest physician group. It gave more than $1.8 million to federal candidates in the past election cycle, according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. It was the first time the group gave significantly more money to Democratic candidates than Republicans.

Hundreds of doctors streamed into the vast hotel ballroom two hours before Obama arrived. Several said their top priority is malpractice reform.

R. Gregory Sachs, a cardiologist from New Jersey, said he was disappointed few leaders in Washington have spoken about the high cost of liability insurance and defensive medicine.

Emergency room "physicians have to order every test imaginable for fear of the one in a million who will end up suing them," which leads to higher medical fees, he said.

Obama has stepped up his engagement in the issue during the past week, both in public events and private negotiations.

At a town-hall style rally in Green Bay, Wis., last week, his pitch to pay for expanded health coverage by increasing taxes on the rich was greeted with enthusiastic applause. In his budget blueprint, Obama proposed limiting itemized deductions such as charitable contributions for the wealthiest Americans.

Staff writer Kari Lydersen contributed to this report.

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