The vote at the group's annual meeting in Chicago was described as "overwhelming" and followed an hour of "very thoughtful debate," according to AMA President Dr. Cecil Wilson, speaking at a news conference. "Two-thirds of the members of this house today said our policy is good," he said.
The AMA had taken flack from some of its members and member societies over the association's support of the individual mandate, with some resigning or letting their memberships expire.
"Important insurance market reforms, such as an end to coverage denials based on pre-existing conditions, are only possible by having broad participation in the health insurance market," Wilson said in an AMA news release about the vote.
The vote followed some three hours of discussion of the issue at a committee meeting on Sunday.
Monday's debate over the resolution on supporting the federal health insurance mandate began with Dr. Richard Warner, a Kansas psychiatrist, proposing an amendment stating that the AMA would advocate for making health insurance requirements a choice for individual states to implement.
Warner, a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, introduced the amendment as a compromise and said that, however the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the matter of the individual insurance mandate, the country and the AMA will remain divided on the issue. He asserted that AMA members could reunite around the amendment, however.
As long lines of physicians rose to stand behind the "pro" and "con" microphones, Vice Speaker of the House—and, as of Saturday, Speaker-elect—Dr. Andrew Gurman said there was a commitment to having an in-depth discussion but that—in the words of his grandmother, he said—"If you have nothing new to say, now is not the time to say it."
The debate featured opposing arguments from two former AMA presidents, both of whom were enthusiastically applauded.
Dr. Daniel Johnson, the 1996-97 president, supported Warner's amendment, saying it would "leverage our intellectual diversity to see whose idea will work best.”
Dr. Robert McAfee, the 1994-95 president, countered that making insurance mandates a state issue would be "the very worst idea" for his state of Maine, where, he said, the health insurance of fishermen, lobstermen, farmers and others with pre-existing conditions was in jeopardy.
The amendment was defeated by a 291-202 (59%-41%) vote before delegates ultimately voted to affirm the association's support for the individual mandate.
Paul Barr and Christine LaFave Grace contributed to this report.