The American Medical Association stepped up its spending on Capitol Hill during the last six months of 2000, funneling about $8.7 million into lobbying efforts on pivotal issues such as managed-care reform and the patients' bill of rights.
The Chicago-based organization, which poured $7.8 million into lobbying campaigns in the first six months of the year, ended the year with a total bill of about $16.5 million for public-advocacy efforts aimed at elected officials, according to the Political Money Line, an online service that closely tracks cash and politics.
Only two other firms or organizations spent more money on lobbying in that six-month span: the Business Roundtable, with $18.5 million; and General Electric Co., with $11.1 million. The Business Roundtable, an association of corporate executives, is something of a political nemesis of the nation's biggest doctors' group, emerging as a leading voice in opposition to the AMA-backed patients' bill of rights.
Asked about the Business Roundtable's huge lobbying tab, Yank Coble, Jr., M.D., the AMA's president-elect, said, "That's a lot of money. We do have budgetary constraints. I wish we could spend that much just on public education."
Last year's funding for advocacy efforts was slightly below the 1999 total of about $18 million. In 1998, the AMA spent $16.6 million.
In recent years, some critics have questioned whether the organization's once-formidable clout on Capitol Hill is slowly eroding along with its membership, which has dropped gradually in recent years to about 291,000, or approximately one-third of the practicing physicians in America.
But Coble, an endocrinologist from Jacksonville, Fla., argued that the organization continues to provide effective advocacy on a number of key issues, including Medicare reform, reimbursement levels, antitrust relief and the patients' bill of rights. Yet after years of effort on the patients' bill of rights, the AMA has been unable to achieve a legislative victory in that key battleground.
The AMA faces a formidable foe in the Business Roundtable, which continues to fight against the AMA's pet cause, demanding a bill that limits lawsuits against businesses and insurers.