In a strongly worded letter to the American Medical Association board of trustees, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) accused the AMA's Washington office of luring the organization into supporting the Democratic managed-care regulation plan.
However, the AMA's Washington office counters that its members were fully aware of the move to endorse the Democratic plan, which was part of a warming trend between the once Republican-leaning organization and the Democrats.
The decision to spurn a GOP leadership-backed bill in favor of the Democratic proposal was ratified by the AMA's House of Delegates during its June meeting in Chicago after first being accepted by the legislative council and board of trustees, according to AMA spokeswoman Brenda Craine.
According to several sources familiar with the July 29 letter, Gingrich likened the AMA's endorsement of the Democratic "Patients' Bill of Rights" to supporting the failed Clinton administration healthcare reform plan of 1993.
The Gingrich letter is another indication of the growing rift between Republican leaders and the AMA.
Last month, shortly before the House voted to pass a GOP managed-care regulation bill and defeat a Democratic alternative, the AMA hosted President Clinton for a roundtable discussion. And last week, AMA officials joined Clinton for a pep rally designed to drum up support for the Democratic bill when the Senate returns to work next month from its traditional August recess.
"I have never seen (Republican leaders) so mad," said one AMA official, who asked not to be identified.
In the recent election cycle, the AMA's campaign contributions were evidence of its break with the GOP. From January 1997 through May 1998, the AMA contributed about $1.2 million to candidates. While nearly 70% of that went to Republicans, that is down considerably from the last election, when the AMA gave more than 80% of its campaign contributions to Republicans.
The AMA supports the Democratic bill largely because it would make it easier for patients to sue an HMO when they have been denied or delayed coverage. Texas, the home state of AMA President Nancy Dickey, M.D., is the only state that has passed such a measure.