Around 63%  of physicians favor creating a new public insurance option that would operate alongside existing private plans, according to a survey published online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Although many physicians’ groups have voiced a collective opinion on the issue, the opinions of individual doctors are less clear.

In putting together the survey, researchers Salomeh Keyhani, MD, and Alex Federman, MD, MPH, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, collected data from 2,130 physicians from the American Medical Association’s database and stratifed the responses of those doctors into four groups: primary care doctors, medical specialists, surgical specialists, and other specialties.

Physicians were asked which options they most support: a public option only; private options only; or a mixture of private and public insurance options. The majority of physicians (63%) said they support a mixture of public and private plans, and 27% of respondents said they favored offering private insurance plans only, but creating subsidies to help low-income people afford insurance.

A mere 10% favored a health care system in which a public, government-run plan was the only insurance option, which would mean private insurance companies would no longer exist in their current form.

Primary care physicians were the most likely to support a public option, while those in fields with less patient contact, such as radiologists and anesthesiologists, were less likely to support a public option, although 57% of those specialists still supported a public option. Doctors who own their own practices were less likely than non-owners to support a public plan (58% versus 67%; P<0.001).

Physicians who are paid salary only tended to support adding a new public plan more than physicians who are paid through billing insurance companies or the government (69% versus 59%; P<0.001).

Support of the public plan was fairly universal across geographic regions as well, but the biggest majority of support came from those practicing in the Northeast (70%). Among AMA members, about 62% of respondents supported the public plan.

The study authors point out several limitations to their survey, including a low response rate of just 43%, however, they add there were no significant differences between the characteristics of responders and nonresponders.