Tags: ama | healthcare | endorse

AMA Members Revolt Over Obamacare Endorsement

Friday, 06 Nov 2009 06:54 PM

By David A. Patten

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The American Medical Association (AMA) is facing a rebellion from some of its members, who have introduced a resolution to revoke the organization's endorsement of the Democrats' healthcare proposals.

AMA delegates tell Newsmax that the association's board of trustees failed to obtain delegate approval before endorsing the reform proposals. The AMA's delegate assembly is considered the group's primary policy-making body.

Dr. James Dolan, the president of the Florida Medical Association, tells Newsmax the delegates "are pretty upset with the board of trustees right now" and an emergency resolution will be submitted to revoke the endorsement.

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Rescinding the AMA endorsement would be a significant blow to Obamacare at a critical point in the debate, as reflected in Democrats' reaction Thursday when they'd won endorsements from AMA and the AARP.

"We are closer to passing this reform than ever before," President Barack Obama declared. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pronounced the nation was "on the brink" of adopting healthcare reforms projected to cost $1.2 trillion, overhauling the sector that accounts for one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

AMA sources confirm a resolution that would effectively revoke the AMA's endorsement will be introduced during the delegates' conference at the association's interim meeting in Houston on Saturday.

The resolution reportedly will oppose the public option, and call for measures to protect doctors and hospitals from malpractice suits.

The AMA has 180 member organizations, including state medical associations, as well as specialty groups such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Surgeons.

Only a fraction of those organizations are expected to vote to rescind, AMA sources say.

An e-mail from the AMA late Friday afternoon in response to a Newsmax inquiry stated: "A late resolution was filed today by 10 of the 180 medical societies in the AMA House of Delegates. As it is a late resolution, it would need a backing of two-thirds of the House of Delegates on Sunday to be considered. Voting begins Monday."

The e-mail included a statement from AMA President Dr. J. James Rohack.

“The AMA's House of Delegates meeting brings together the nation's broadest, most inclusive representation of physicians and medical students," Rohack stated. "Delegates representing every state and specialty debate and vote on behalf of their peers.

"Many physician organizations have formally supported the House bills; others have different opinions. This shows us that physicians are engaged and passionate about health reform, and that's a good thing.

"We take our leadership at the center of the health debate as an honor and serious responsibility. Constructive engagement is crucial to getting health reform this year. The AMA will stay engaged to improve the final bill and achieve a better health-care system for patients and physicians," Rohack states.

Dolan suggests the AMA has underestimated the scope of the division over healthcare.

"Talking to our guys who are up there," Dolan tells Newsmax, "and talking to delegates in others states, and to specialty societies that signed on, I suspect that vote will be to rescind."

According to Dolan, the AMA board issued a similar endorsement in July without delegate approval, when it declared AMA support for the earlier House version of the bill.

After that endorsement, 10,000 physicians logged onto Sermo.com, an online physicians' community, to voice their opinions. According to the Sermo Web site, of the doctors who responded, "94 percent do not support the bill, and 95 percent state that the AMA does not speak for them with its endorsement."

At least seven state-level medical organizations, most in the South and Midwest, have expressed unhappiness at not being consulted prior to the AMA endorsement.

Many doctors say healthcare reform adds to already-burdensome paperwork requirements, while failing to implement the tort reforms needed to reduce liability premiums and reduce spiraling medical costs. They add that Obamacare won't eliminate the unnecessary procedures that doctors feel they must perform merely to minimize the chances of malpractice litigation – the practice of so-called "defensive medicine."

Dolan speculates that AMA executives may have felt there wasn't enough time to seek delegates' approval, given Democratic efforts to push the bill to a vote as early as this weekend. Dolan doesn't consider the short lead time a valid excuse, however.

"I polled our [state] board of governors this morning in about four hours by e-mail, to get their reaction whether we should sign on or not [to the resolution to rescind]," he says. "So in the day of blackberries and iPhones, doing a quick straw vote doesn't take much.

Dolan says the sentiment among his Florida Medical Association board members was "very strong" for revoking the AMA endorsement.

It wouldn't mark the first time the AMA had been tripped up by the healthcare debate. The organization suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Senate two weeks ago when it was unable to deliver enough Republican votes to pass a $247 billion reprieve from cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has had past run-ins with the AMA, told The Associated Press: "I can't think of a more ineffective organization when it comes to dealing with Congress. The lesson I've learned … is if you agree to fix their compensation, they will basically get in the tank with their natural adversaries."

Support for Pelosi's reform bill is by no means unanimous in the medical community. On Friday, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) announced their opposition to the House bill.

“Overall," CNS President Dr. Gerald E. Rodts stated, in announcing the organization's opposition, "we believe this legislation will ultimately limit patient choice by putting the government between the doctor and the patient, which will interfere with vital patient care decisions. As it stands, this House bill could amount to a complete government takeover of healthcare.”

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