Paging the AMA: Wake Up

Last week the American Medical Association became the latest special-interest group to line up behind President Obama in support of Obamacare. The AMA is the largest physicians’ organization in the country, and many laymen think of it as the impartial voice of the profession. But moves to the left such as this are precisely why the group has seen its membership plummet to the point where today only 18 percent of practicing physicians are members. Despite the AMA’s support, a recent IBD/TIPP poll found that 65 percent of doctors oppose Obamacare. Most doctors agree that reform is needed — just not Obama’s prescription.

The AMA has evidently decided that it’s better to be sitting at the table than to be on the menu. While this self-serving approach may be in the best interests of the organization itself and its board members’ appointment prospects, it is difficult to envision how the AMA’s position serves the constituency it purports to represent.

AdvaMed, the trade lobby representing medical-device manufacturers, made the same erroneous calculation. It supported a bill that most likely is not in the industry’s best interests . . . or anyone else’s, for that matter. AdvaMed thought it was limiting its losses by signing on with the Democrats’ plan, but before it could even receive a thank-you note, Senator Baucus threw the industry under the bus with a $40 billion tax on medical devices. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before doctors meet a similar fate.

Obamacare is brutal for doctors and patients. Any bill with a public-plan option based on Medicare’s sub-market reimbursement rates will significantly deplete physician income, but the detriment to physicians transcends dollars and cents. The bills being debated will strip away doctors’ autonomy and drown them in bureaucracy and paperwork. This will allow them to spend even less time with patients and will drain whatever satisfaction remains from the field.

The current Democratic regime has engaged in unprecedented arm-twisting with those reluctant to toe the party line. It has brought to K Street a style of politics usually reserved for the back streets around Wrigley Field — from waging a full-scale assault on average Americans exercising their First Amendment rights at town-hall meetings to requiring insurance-company executives who refuse to play ball to testify before Congress. It would be naïve to think that when push comes to shove, the administration would refrain from using such hardball tactics against those in white coats.

A time will come when costs soar as more patients join the system, and liberal pipe dreams of huge savings from preventive medicine and electronic health records fail to materialize. Ultimately the savings will have to come from somewhere, and most likely it won’t be from trial lawyers.

Perhaps then the AMA will regret its opportunistic cynicism, but it will be too late to prevent physician services from being discounted to blue-plate-special rates.

– Jason D. Fodeman, M.D., is a former health-policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of How to Destroy a Village: What the Clintons Taught a Seventeen-Year-Old.

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