Dear AMA: I quit!
I recently had the opportunity to read your response to the Senate Finance Committee proposal for health care reform, and it is clear to me that I cannot remain a member in your organization. Please remove my name from your membership rolls, effective immediately.
In reading the response, I was frustrated and disheartened by the fact that you couldn't get through the second paragraph before bringing up the issue of physician reimbursement. This merely highlights how the AMA represents a physician-centered and self-interested perspective rather than honoring the altruistic nature of my profession. As a physician, I advocate first for what is best for my patients and believe that as a physician, as long as I continue to maintain the trust and integrity of the profession, I will earn the respect of my community. The appropriate financial compensation for my endeavors will follow in kind.
I encourage the AMA leadership to read Atul Gawande's recent article describing how physician culture drives up the cost of health care without benefiting patient outcomes. At the heart of this problem are physicians who have a vision of themselves as money-generating profit centers rather than professionals serving the public good. The AMA represents, and encourages, this mindset with its single-focus on physician reimbursement over all other health care reform issues.
However, the most disappointing aspect of the AMA's response to the proposed health care reforms was the opposition to the public health insurance option. I simply cannot support an organization that opposes the public health insurance plan for my patients. Instead of advocating for patients, the AMA is supporting the private insurance industry, which has been a driving force in creating the dysfunction health care system we have today.
But this should not have surprised me: when health care reform has been necessary, the AMA has always stood on the wrong side of history. The AMA opposed the creation of Medicare in the 1930s, when it was first proposed as part of Social Security. The AMA opposed Medicare again in the 1960s, going as far as to hire an actor named Ronald Reagan to read a script to the AMA Auxiliary declaring Medicare as the first step toward socialism, and concluding with the statement that if Medicare were to become law, "One day, we will awake to find that we have socialism.... One of these days, you and I will to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it was once like in America when men were free."
That was 50 years ago ... and none of that has come to pass. And yet this year, the AMA argues that a public health insurance plan will destroy the private insurance market. I challenge the AMA leadership to cite a single example of an industry where involvement by the government has lead to the elimination of private enterprise. This has not been the case with the creation of public police forces in the second half of the 1800's (private security companies still exist), we have a robust system of public and private colleges existing the same market, and bookstores still sell books despite the presence of public libraries. A mix of public and private enterprises in the market is a truly American solution to ensuring equal access, as well as competition to drive quality improvement. In fact, the creation of the public health insurance option will *increase* competition, as demonstrated by the AMA's own studies showing that 94% of health insurance markets only have 1 or 2 providers in the market.
It would appear that the AMA's position against the public health insurance market is driven by out-dated political ideology that blindly supports private industry rather than a careful examination of the facts of the current situation.
The AMA seems to be fixated on the fact that Medicare and Medicaid payments are lower than other payers. Let's go back to the history again: because the AMA opposed the creation of Medicare, physicians were not represented at the table when the system was designed. As a great policy wonk once said, "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." And thanks to the dismal leadership and short-sightedness of the AMA in the 1960s, physicians were not a full partner in the creation of Medicare. And we're still feeling the reprocussions of that today. And yet now in 2009, the AMA is going to repeat that mistake by opposing the public plan.
The health care system is broken, and physician leadership is needed now more than ever to help direct the reforms that are desperately needed. However, the AMA has not shown itself to be the organization to provide that leadership in restoring the profession of medicine. New physician leadership is needed to fully achieve a reformed health care system that works for our patients and for our country.
Chris McCoy, MD