Despite efforts by the American Medical Association to discourage union activity by physicians, its House of Delegates last week called for efforts to remove barriers to collective bargaining by doctors.
That was among many issues addressed during the annual delegates meeting in Chicago of the 150-year old AMA, which last week named its first female president-elect, Nancy W. Dickey, M.D.
The delegates passed a resolution directing the AMA to draft legislation if necessary to allow self-employed physicians to form collective bargaining units "to negotiate reasonable payments for medical services and to compete in the current managed-care environment."
The vote countered the recommendation of a subcommittee that endorsed the AMA's continuing role in representing physicians.
Federal antitrust laws prohibit self-employed physicians from engaging in collective bargaining, even if they are represented by a certified union. Antitrust laws consider self-employed physicians to be competitors, and competitors can't jointly set prices for their services. To counter the market clout of managed care, many employed physicians are joining unions, which had long been considered unprofessional.
An AMA report released this month said some physicians falsely believe that an AFL-CIO-affiliated union can engage in collective bargaining on behalf of self-employed physicians. It said physicians provide an attractive target for union recruitment at a time of sagging union membership, but unions can do no more than state and county medical societies.
The AMA also started a Division of Representation to help members access information about antitrust, collective negotiation and related issues.
Dickey, a family physician from College Station, Texas, currently serves as chair of the AMA board of trustees, where she has sat since 1989. She will be installed as president next year following Percy Wootton, M.D., a Virginia internist who was inaugurated last week.
The delegates also voted to:
Call on the AMA to organize fund-raising efforts to pay legal expenses incurred by Mesa County (Ariz.) IPA to defend against an antitrust suit filed by the Federal Trade Commission.
Adopt recommendations that it is unethical to require physicians-in-training to sign a noncompete agreement as a condition of their residency or fellowship.