Trying to buck a long-term membership slide, the AMA reports that Henry Ford Medical Group, one of the nation's largest group practices, has agreed to underwrite discounted AMA memberships for all 800 of its physicians.
Under the three-year arrangement, which started retroactively in April, the Detroit-based practice is paying the AMA dues of close to $300 per physician, compared with regular AMA dues of $420, AMA officials said today.
The AMA reports that other large groups--such as the Scott & White Clinic in Texas, Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Washington and Mayo Clinic in Minnesota--also pay for AMA memberships.
But the Henry Ford contract is the AMA's only "three-tier" arrangement, under which Henry Ford also pays for its doctors' memberships in state and county societies, the AMA says.
This arrangement recalls the AMA's "unified" deals that buoyed membership numbers in the early 1990s but have virtually disappeared. Under unified membership, physicians who joined state and county societies also were required to join the AMA under a discount.
Unlike the new Henry Ford arrangement, these doctors often paid out of their own pockets. As dues rose and expenses tightened, they voted with their feet, instructing their local societies to drop unification and contributing to the AMA's membership losses.
Even after the spate of deunifications in the 1990s, the AMA membership continued to decline, reportedly falling 12% from 1999 to the end of 2002. In 2002, membership stood at 260,455 physicians, or about 27% of all doctors in the United States.
Market penetration for physicians in large groups of more than 66 physicians is even lower, at about 20%, AMA officials report. They add that large groups are a potentially large market, with a total of about 300 large groups in the country representing nearly 75,000 physicians.
Officials at Henry Ford did not respond to calls, but in an AMA release Mark Kelley, M.D., CEO of the group practice, says: "We believe AMA membership will help us meet many of the challenges confronting physicians today."
Kelley adds: "We are confident the AMA will advocate for physicians on a national level and address important health care issues such as the medical liability crisis and Medicare payment."