Another executive is out and new corporate sponsorship rules are in as the American Medical Association buffs itself up in anticipation of a tongue-lashing from more than a few members this month over its controversial marketing deal with Sunbeam Corp.
The AMA-Sunbeam deal, which would have given Sunbeam the right to use the AMA's trademark in exchange for what was expected to be millions of dollars in royalties for the AMA, will be on the agenda when the AMA House of Delegates meets Dec. 7 to 10 in Dallas. The deal is currently in litigation as the association tries to renege on the agreement, and several state and local medical societies are planning to submit resolutions to the delegates meeting proposing limitations on future endorsement deals.
The executive who led the investigation into the AMA-Sunbeam deal is not making the trip to Dallas. Kirk Johnson's probe led to the dismissal of three executives. Johnson himself resigned as the AMA's general counsel and group vice president for advocacy after he was stripped of the latter title in a reorganization of the lobbying and communications departments he led.
According to an AMA statement, Johnson stepped down because he "was not prepared to continue" only as general counsel. His resignation as general counsel was effective Dec. 1; he stepped down from the advocacy position on Nov. 1.
Johnson was the target of some heat from the AMA-Sunbeam controvsery after theChicago Sun-Times reported that last year he had been involved in negotiating a $2.5 million Olympic-related sponsorship deal with drug maker Hoffman-La Roche.
The deal, which the Sun-Times alleged would have benefited Johnson's wife, fell through. The AMA would not comment on whether this allegation had anything to do with Johnson's departure; the group said merely that the parting was "amicable."
Michael Ile, the AMA's assistant general counsel for health law, is filling in as general counsel on an interim basis. As for Johnson's advocacy and communications positions, those have not yet been filled. When they are, the new directors will report directly to Executive Vice President P. John Seward, M.D.
Meanwhile, the AMA on Nov. 4 announced the formation of a 15-person task force to develop "definite ethics and professional standards to guide the conduct of the Association's corporate relationships." The task force, made up of attorneys, ethicists, physicians and AMA officials, is scheduled to present a first draft of the standards in Dallas, with a final report due in the spring.
The AMA already has developed so-called interim guidelines that ban exclusive endorsements and deals that could present a conflict of interest. Some of the hue and cry over the Sunbeam deal was based on the fact that it was an exclusive arrangement and did not provide for testing of products.