AMA Splinters Over Failure to Oppose Obamacare

Democrats are touting the fact that the AMA has signed on to their health care reform effort. But is the AMA really representing the views of its members, or are they playing a Washington game: currying favor with the Democrat majority, in the hopes that when negotiators decide who’ll pay for national health care, they’re not left holding the bill? Here’s one suggestion that the AMA leadership may be getting ahead of its rank and file:

Concerned that the American Medical Association has taken too tepid a position on Democratic healthcare reform plans, a coalition of state medical associations and specialty organizations is breaking from the country’s largest physicians’ group to mount its own push against the inclusion of a public insurance option in any overhaul bill.

Seventeen state medical associations and three specialty physicians’ groups planned a conference call late Wednesday to discuss a draft letter that would go much further than the AMA’s more measured responses to the public option.

The AMA has made clear it is not opposed to a public plan, but would resist a Medicare-like program that mandates physician participation and pays less than their costs..

The draft letter, written by members of the Medical Association of Georgia, says flatly that the physicians’ groups unequivocally oppose a government-administered insurance plan, as well as use of government-funded effectiveness tests, or “comparative effectiveness research,” to dictate which medical procedures should be eligible for coverage…

A Republican aide familiar with the coalition’s concerns said the physicians’ groups especially worry that AMA’s position on public option language in the House’s developing legislation has been “too squishy…”

“Physicians have been offered a seat at the table so long as we sit still with our hands folded in our laps and keep our mouths shut,” wrote John Black president of the South Carolina association, and Gary Delaney, the group’s chairman. “The muzzle that the Feds placed on us must be removed and the decibel level of our voices must be raised so that we are unmistakably heard.”

In addition to Georgia and South Carolina, state medical associations from New Jersey, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia and 10 other states and the District of Columbia planned to discuss the letter and consider signing it.

The Triological Society and the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery were also invited to participate in Wednesday’s discussion, said a spokeswoman for the Georgia group.

Seventeen state associations are considering separating themselves from the national AMA to make clear that they oppose a government-run plan. That doesn’t completely devalue the AMA’s position, but it certainly makes you wonder what could have caused such a sudden and dramatic reversal. Given the threats Democrats have been leveling against groups that refuse to cooperate with their agenda, it would be no surprise if the AMA’s leadership simply calculated that it would be more dangerous to fight than to give in.

We’ll know in the next few days how many state associations are willing to buck their leadership and sign on to this letter. I wonder how much attention that will receive.