The specter of an embarrassing $5 million lawsuit could haunt a second straight national meeting of the American Medical Association, renewing questions and concerns about the group's disastrous Sunbeam Corp. endorsement deal in 1997.
The lawsuit, filed by former AMA chief executive E. Ratcliffe "Andy" Anderson Jr., M.D., will be the subject of a report from a select committee when the 549-member house of delegates gathers in San Francisco Dec. 1-5 for the organization's annual midyear conference.
AMA delegates also will be introduced to Anderson's replacement-Michael Maves, M.D., president of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association in Washington, who last week was named executive vice president of the Chicago-based doctors' group (See story, p. 16 ).
Anderson's lawsuit in mid-June triggered another round of negative publicity when it was made public on the second day of the AMA's annual meeting in Chicago. Now that hypersensitive topic will again assume center stage, if only for a day, almost certainly diverting attention from policy and public-safety issues.
"I would hope that we, as a profession, can move on-we have a lot to deal with, in terms of bioterrorism and a national health system crisis," said Jack Lewin, M.D., chief executive officer of the 35,000-member California Medical Association. "My hope is that the AMA will get on to the real business at hand and minimize the retrospective self-flagellation. The house of delegates, I hope, will focus its eyes on the future."
The AMA investigative committee, which spent months hearing testimony and gathering evidence on Anderson's allegations, will present its report during a two-hour assembly of the full house of delegates on the second day of the meeting. It's still not certain what action, if any, it will prompt.
In his lawsuit, pending in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, Anderson claimed the board of trustees improperly blocked his effort to fire legal counsel Michael Ile, who allegedly sold a parcel of AMA land in downtown Chicago for about $13.5 million below market value. Anderson said Ile's job was protected because he provided cover for top AMA officials in the failed Sunbeam endorsement deal. It cost four top AMA employees their jobs, including the former chief executive, John Seward, M.D., whose resignation in December 1997 opened the job for Anderson.
As they grapple with Anderson's lawsuit and welcome his successor, delegates are also expected to devote considerable time to bioterrorism during the meeting, which will be held under tightened security, AMA officials said.
The meeting may also renew and magnify a long-running dispute between the AMA and the CMA over the control and security of doctors' digital information over the Internet. The controversy has been triggered by the competition over the development and marketing of similar digital-identification products-the AMA's Internet ID and California's MEDePass.
At the AMA's annual meeting in June, California sponsored a resolution attempting to restrict the information the AMA can provide through its MasterFile, a compilation of personal and professional information on more than 811,000 physicians that generates approximately $23 million in annual revenue through licenses to database companies.
Lewin and other CMA officials said they are satisfied that the AMA has taken steps to limit or monitor the flow of information, including tough new restrictions on the use of Social Security numbers. Since July 2001, the AMA no longer provides Social Security numbers to any organization, including hospitals involved in credentialing medical staff, officials said.
Still, the members of the California delegation, working on their home turf, have presented a similar resolution on physician data for the midyear meeting, asking that the AMA "take necessary regulatory and legislative actions to prohibit profiling of physician-prescribing habits."