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After Supporting ObamaCare, Has the American Medical Association Lost Its Way?

American Medical Association (AMA) president Cecil Wilson did a splendid job of revealing the true colors of the organization in his statements made at the recent House of Delegates meeting in Chicago. 

He stated that “no group other than the AMA speaks for doctors.” He also said that it is “shameful for doctors to oppose ObamaCare and to disagree with the AMA endorsement of it. 

His arrogance is stunning and shows how far out of touch the AMA is with the majority of doctors. 

Not surprisingly, their membership continues to dwindle and is down 12,000 paying members just this past year. Less than 17% of practicing physicians in America belong to the AMA, yet a fraction of these doctors agree with the policies and positions that come from the leadership of the organization.

During 2009, at the height of the health care reform debate, all of the stakeholders came to Washington with strong lobbying efforts on behalf of their constituents. All, that is, except for doctors. 

The American Hospital Association (AHA), America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), and Big Pharma all received concessions in exchange for their support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

This was not the case with the “true voice of doctors” -- the AMA. They failed miserably when they had an opportunity to negotiate for issues important to doctors such as a permanent end to the Medicare SGR (“doc fix”) and tort reform. 

Instead, the AMA was a strong advocate for ObamaCare and got nothing in return for their constituents. In fact, a strong case can be made that the AMA was an accomplice to the successful passage of this law, because without their backing, the bill may have been in jeopardy. The question is: why did this happen?

Many people think that the AMA miscalculated, while others believe that they were just inept and simply outfoxed by clever politicians. 

Then there are some who question whether there may be a connection with the preservation of their government sanctioned monopoly over medical coding -- a system that all doctors and hospitals must use in order to get paid. This is a huge income stream for the organization --over $80 million annually--and allows it to stay afloat and financially strong at a time when revenue from paying members is dwindling. 

Looking for other income sources in lieu of membership dues, the AMA received an additional $47 million in 2009 by selling membership data to drug companies. This may be why they remained eerily silent when the prescription drug data mining case was heard by the US Supreme Court in May.

Another item that went mostly unnoticed was the recent appointment of James Madera as the CEO of the AMA. It is noteworthy that Dr. Madera has ties to the Obama White House, having worked with First Lady Michelle Obama and top presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett when he was CEO at the University of Chicago Medical Center and they were both on the board. 

He resigned his position amid controversy over a plan to redirect patients from the University to community hospitals -- a plan that was criticized by doctors at the hospital as well as the university president. 

More importantly regarding Dr. Madera, is the fact that he has been a lifelong academician who has more in common with hospitals than with doctors. In fact, the AHA praised his selection, and its spokesman, CEO Rich Umbdenstock thought that Dr. Madera would “provide the insight needed as the healthcare field continues to align and integrate. 

At a time when doctors are increasingly distrustful of the Obama administration and of hospitals with the prospect of ACOs (accountable care organizations) looming large, the AMA has selected as their CEO a man who has close ties to both groups -- not reassuring for doctors.

There are many doctors who had hoped that the 2011 AMA House of Delegates meeting would be an opportunity to reclaim the organization; to get them to repudiate ObamaCare. Instead, they resoundingly reaffirmed their support of it- specifically the individual mandate, which may yet be determined to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, the AMA is too far gone to reclaim it. At this point, the patient (the AMA) is “terminal.” 

The shame lies not with doctors who disagree with the “official” positions that this organization takes, as Dr. Wilson would have people believe, but with him for having the temerity to deny the basic right of dissent to members of his profession who disagree with him and who believe that the AMA has betrayed doctors and patients.

Dr. Hal Scherz is the founder and president of Docs4PatientCare.