The American Medical Association has won a vote of confidence from the Illinois State Medical Society, one of the first signs that the stigma of last year's Sunbeam Corp. debacle may be fading.
At its first special meeting in more than two decades, the society's House of Delegates decided to continue requiring its 18,000 members to belong to the AMA. Illinois is one of only four state societies that do so.
The vote of 81-80 to "deunify" from the AMA fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend society bylaws.
The vote was preceded by an impassioned speech by the AMA's executive vice president of four months, E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., M.D., who asked for time to turn the Chicago-based AMA around.
Speaking to delegates at the historic Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago, Anderson referred to the proximity and historic ties between the two societies and the Chicago Medical Society.
"We're taking the steps to bridge the short distance between us," he said.
The Sept. 19 decision countered the recommendation of a special committee formed by the state medical society's house at its annual meeting in April, which urged an end to the 40-year-old joint membership policy.
Physicians who favored deunification said the AMA has failed to address the economic concerns of doctors and reacted slowly to national issues. They also criticized the AMA's participation in developing controversial Medicare documentation guidelines last year and its product endorsement deal with Sunbeam. This summer, the AMA agreed to pay a $9.9 million settlement to the appliance maker for canceling the contract (Aug. 3, p. 4).
The endorsement controversy added momentum to the deunification movement, said society President Richard Geline, M.D. Deunification has been raised at six of the last seven annual meetings, he said, but this was the first time the issue was referred to a special committee for study.
Anderson promised improvements such as a "member service initiative" to consolidate referral resources and the creation of an "office of member communications." He also committed to more hands-on help including the formation of AMA "SWAT" teams to fight managed-care plans.
Some delegates questioned the validity of a poll that showed 68% of Illinois doctors favored ending the joint membership requirement.
Geline called Anderson's speech "very persuasive." The AMA chief executive "asked for some time, and he got it. I think people are prone to give him the chance."
But the controversy over unification with the AMA isn't likely to disappear. There are strong feelings on both sides, Geline said.