Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. yesterday attacked the nation's two leading health group - the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association - for fighting the Carter effort has been no suprise, he said in an interview. "They have opposed virtually every progressive step in the health-care area, every step for the government to become the catalyst and further expand service to the poor and the needy."

Speaking of their lobbying prowess and the high income or profits of some hospitals and hospital-based doctors, Califano thus became the first HEW Secretary in years to take on the country's powerful medical establishment.

Califano said he opposes "wage controls" but added that hospitals should negotiate "much more firmly" with specialists such as pathologists, radiologists and anesthesiologists who often "get a percentage of the gross" income of their departments.

"That's like the entertainment business," he said. "This is not the entertainment business."

Such specialists collect $100,000 or more a year from many hospitals, and as much as $200,000 or $300,000 from some, according to information supplied Congress by some state health cost commissions.

Many congressional observers have said the Carter program to try to limit most hospitals to overall cost increases of no more than 9 per cent yearly may not be passed by Congress this year.

Califano predicted it will pass despite much congressional criticism. Asked what the main forces are in its way, he replied: "We run into hospitals. And the AMA as well. They're very effective and strong lobbyists."

He cited the fact that community hospitals, "by AHA figures," made "$1.5 billion in profits in 1976," compared with "only $438 million" in 1970.

He called the figures evidence that "there's lots of big money" that can be cut without hurting treatment. "You don't have to run every test at every hospital," he said.

Despite Califano's optimism about the control program's prospects, he would predict only that "it will pass in the House by summer recess," and said that it faces a "more difficult" course in the Senate. White House and HEW officials had hoped the legislation would be passed in time to become effective Oct. 1. The Carter fiscal 1978 budget, effective Oct. 1, anticipates Medicare savings of $800 million under such controls.

AMA and AHA spokesmen denied yesterday that they have opposed progressive health legislation. They said they have backed expanded national health insurance, mainly through private insurers.

But they repeated their opposition to the Carter cost controls, mainly, they said, because they think controls on hospital charges cannot work unless the prices hospitals pay for goods and services also are controlled.