By Bennett Hall for the Gazette-Times

President Barack Obama assembled more than 100 doctors outside the White House on Monday morning to enlist the medical profession’s backing for his proposed health care reforms.

But at least one attending physician was there to express a dissenting opinion.

Dr. Paul Hochfeld crashed the Rose Garden party in hopes of bending the president’s ear. The Corvallis emergency room physician has spent most of the past month on a national tour with an Oregon group called the Mad As Hell Doctors to promote single-payer medical coverage.

If he thought he might win a personal audience with the president, he was disappointed.

“It wasn’t really a meeting,” Hochfeld said in a phone interview afterward. “It was a photo op for the president to show he had the support of all those physicians.”

With four doctors in lab coats on the stage behind him and scores of others seated in the audience, Obama gave a speech calculated to shore up support for his reform package. The president’s plan calls for extending coverage to uninsured Americans and eliminating exclusions from private insurance, but it stops far short of the sweeping changes Hochfeld has been pushing on his cross-country roadshow, which began Sept. 8 in Portland and culminated with a rally in Washington last week.

A hoped-for meeting with President Obama to discuss single-payer health care never materialized. But on Monday, Hochfeld was one of 15 members of Physicians for a National Health Program trying to get into the Rose Garden event.

Like the Mad As Hell Doctors, PNHP supports HR 676, the so-called Medicare for All bill, which would expand government health insurance to cover all Americans. That bill, co-authored by Reps. John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich, has been pushed aside in congressional reform discussions.

Mark Almberg, a spokesman for Physicians for a National Health Program, said his organization considers the president’s health care plan dangerous because it gives the appearance of reform without addressing

fundamental flaws in the system.

“We want effective reform,” Almberg said. “Unfortunately, this piecemeal approach is preserving the status quo, if not setting us up for something worse.”

Hochfeld said he wasn’t sure why he was the only one from the PNHP group who made it past the gate, unless it was plain stubborn persistence.

“I wasn’t invited to the meeting. I was just following the white coats,” Hochfeld said. “I didn’t really expect to get in, but I wasn’t going to go away until it was clear there wasn’t a chance.”

He’s still not going away. Even though he’s resigned to a reform package he doesn’t believe in, Hochfeld said he plans to keep pushing for a complete transformation of the U.S. health care system.

“We all have a role to play in this drama,” Hochfeld said. “I feel strongly that my role in this drama is to continue to advocate for universal health care, and we’re never going to have universal health care until we have something that looks like single-payer.”

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