To say the American Medical Association hasn't received much positive press lately would be an obvious understatement. But the good folks at the AMA can point with pride to at least one high-profile public-policy accomplishment-their early, fierce and ultimately effective opposition to NBC-TV's controversial plan to air hard liquor advertisements beginning next month.
Indeed, the AMA was among the first of the special interest groups, along with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to publicly condemn NBC's decision last December to broadcast a series of public service spots from Smirnoff vodka as a prelude to regular product advertisements.
Given its recent troubles, it was no surprise that the AMA's public relations apparatus wasted little time highlighting-make that underlining and emphasizing-the organization's rare victory earlier this month.
"Using an arsenal of communications vehicles-including press statements, letters to the editors of newspapers across the country and a provocative, full-page ad run in the New York Times-the AMA consistently urged NBC to reconsider its actions," declared a prominent notice on the AMA's Web site. "An article in (the) New York Times noted that the AMA is the only opponent that NBC listed by name in its press statement."
Of course, influential members of Congress and a handful of other advocacy groups-including MADD, which knows a little about exercising influence and clout-also came out forcefully against NBC's policy. But even cynics acknowledge that the AMA, the nation's biggest doctors' group, deserves credit for helping force the big TV network to cave in to public pressure.
J. Edward Hill, M.D., incoming chairman of the AMA's board of trustees, said the decision "sends a clear message that even in difficult times, the health and safety of our young people is worth far more than advertising dollars."
If the charges stick, you must convict
With the help of famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, family members of a Washington postal worker who died of inhalation anthrax have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a unit of Kaiser Permanente and one of its caregivers for misdiagnosing his symptoms.
"Mr. Morris went in for healthcare. What he received was health negligence," Cochran said at a press conference last week to announce the suit, filed in Prince George's County (Md.) Circuit Court.
Thomas Morris Jr., who worked in the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, which was contaminated by anthrax-tainted letters, entered Kaiser Permanente's Marlow Heights Medical Center in Suitland, Md., on Oct. 18, 2001, experiencing difficulty in breathing and body aches. He told nurse practitioner Allan Korff he thought he had been exposed to anthrax but was diagnosed with a simple virus and told to go home and take Tylenol. Three days later in a call to 911, he detailed his emergency- room visit. He died shortly thereafter.
The eight allegations against Kaiser Permanente and Korff include medical malpractice, negligence and wrongful death. The suit seeks more than $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages. An earlier suit filed last November was withdrawn.
In a written statement, Kaiser Permanente's Mid-Atlantic States Region officials said its caregivers rely on standards of care established by medical professionals and the public health system. "He (Mr. Morris) died because someone put anthrax into an envelope and sent it through the mail," the statement read.
The impressively titled 4th Annual World Healthcare Conference at the University of Chicago April 22-23 probably didn't need much help in recruiting attendees.
The Global Conference Institute-sponsored event, which is themed "How Policy Is Influencing Healthcare & Medicine," features speakers such as American Medical Association President Richard Corlin, M.D.; Leo Henikoff, M.D., past president of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago; and Glenn Steele Jr., M.D., president and CEO of Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, Pa. Topics include conquering cancer, the impact of bioterrorism on healthcare, life under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and updates on global financial markets.
So whom did the institute choose to grace the cover of its brochures? Tommy Thompson? Thomas Scully? Uwe Reinhardt? Nope, they used that famous healthcare policy wonk Sharon Stone. While it's true that actress Stone is no ditzy blond and has won plaudits for her work as chairwoman of the Campaign for AIDS Research and the American Foundation for AIDS Research, she hasn't exactly published in Health Affairs or taught healthcare policy, run a hospital or headed a state Medicaid program.
Think about this, though: If you were asking people to plunk down $995 to hear doctors, hospital administrators and academics debate prescription drug plans and healthcare for the uninsured, whose mug would you use to plug the show?