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Healthcare reform rankles AMA delegates


By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: June 19, 2011 - 6:00 pm ET
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Physicians at the 160th annual meeting of the American Medical Association House of Delegates in Chicago spent Sunday speaking their minds on subjects ranging from the personal responsibility of acquiring health insurance to the repeal of healthcare reform.

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Other hot topics included the pace of implementing healthcare information technology, the protection of healthcare data privacy, the condemnation of competitive eating and discussing if taxing sugar-sweetened soft drinks is a good strategy for combating teen obesity.

Between the four committees that met in the morning and the four that convened in the afternoon, the doctors considered more than 200 reports, resolutions, calls to actions and policy changes.

In addition to debating healthcare reform, delegates discussed how the AMA's support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the subsequent backlash had changed the organization's makeup.

There are 521 seats in the AMA House, with delegates split between 180 state and medical specialty societies. The number of delegates a group gets is based on its AMA membership, so in states and specialties where AMA membership lags behind others or has dropped because of the AMA stance on healthcare reform, those groups have seen their numbers of delegates drop.

The Medical Society of New Jersey introduced a resolution calling for representation to be frozen at 2009 levels, arguing that “thousands of physicians elected not to renew their AMA membership in protest of the AMA's support of health system reform legislation passed by Congress.”

AMA membership fell 5.3% last year, down to 216,000 from 228,000 in 2009. AMA rolls have dropped almost 10.4% since 2007 when it had 241,000 members.

Delegates from specialty societies representing anesthesiologists, radiologists and surgeons spoke against the resolution and noted that dwindling AMA membership is a “long-term issue” and is not necessarily “related to a single act of Congress.”

Dr. William Jefferson Terry, president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, disagreed and said, “Our decreased membership is solely a one-issue issue” with that issue being the AMA support of reform legislation. If a delegate distribution is not frozen at 2009 levels, “the diversity of opinion in this house will be decreased,” he said.

Several resolutions dealt with limiting scope of practices, including one that took the Joint Commission to task for its new primary-care medical accreditation program in which a practice does not need to be physician-led to qualify. Delegates did not appreciate the Joint Commission's decision to replace the word “physician” with “clinician,” which means that medical organizations led by an advanced practice nurse or physician assistant can be accredited. (The program starts next month.)

Delegates will start voting on the various measures starting Monday afternoon and may continue doing so into Wednesday, depending on the length of debate.


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