The American Medical Association formed a task force last month at a closed-door meeting in Chicago to examine ways to boost membership.
Members of the board of trustees and senior staff looked at everything from dramatically reduced annual dues to an a la carte menu of member services during the "membership summit."
The Chicago-based AMA spent two days listening to consultants' reports and discussing initiatives aimed at retaining members and enticing younger physicians to pay the standard annual dues of $420 to join.
"It's not given us the answers, but it's given us a way to start," said William Plested, a heart surgeon from Los Angeles who is chairman of the AMA's board. "There is no quick fix to change. People are not joining (groups) like they did in the past. It's not just a problem we're facing."
After peaking at about 294,700 in 1999, membership decreased to about 260,455 in 2002, the AMA said, a drop of 11.6%. It now represents about 27% of U.S. physicians. Plested said he appointed a task force of board members that will work on the project over the next four months or so with McKinsey & Co., which the AMA has hired to help in the membership effort (July 14, p. 12).
Some key AMA officials have argued that the organization must dramatically reduce its annual fees, perhaps by $300 or more. That lower fee also could be paired with the cafeteria membership concept in which members would be asked to pay extra for some services they now receive as part of their annual dues.