The AMA, still crazy after all these years


There’s nothing worse than doctors who refuse to learn from their own mistakes.

The latest pronouncement from the American Medical Association opposing publicly funded healthcare (single payer) is foolish on its face, but it unforgivable when turns out that it is merely a recapitulation of a thoroughly discredited policy of the past. The fact that it is not in line with the views of the vast majority of American physicians makes it worse, and goes a long way toward explaining the increasing irrelevance of the organization.

The support for reform of the healthcare system has never been greater. The AMA, in a move supremely out of step with the majority of Americans, not to mention the majority of American physicians, has declared their opposition. According to The New York Times:

…[I]n comments submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, the American Medical Association said: “The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.”

The wording is rather ironic. Forty years ago, the AMA declared its opposition to creating a public health insurance option people over age 65, complete with dire predictions of the destruction of American medicine. That public health insurance option is known as Medicare, and far from destroying American medicine, it ushered in a golden age for American physicians.

The current opposition to healthcare reform, like the opposition to Medicare, is consistent with the AMA’s sad and sordid history of vociferous opposition to any attempt at healthcare reform. Truman first proposed universal compulsory health insurance in 1948. As Robert Ball explains:

The AMA’s opposition approached hysteria. Members were assessed dues for the first time to create a $3.5 million war chest-very big money for the times-with which the association conducted an unparalleled campaign of vituperation against the advocates of national health insurance. The AMA also exerted strict discipline over the few of its members who took an “unethical” position favoring the government program.

But AMA is no longer the force in American medicine that it was in the past. In the 1960’s, at the height of opposition to Medicare, the AMA claimed at least 70 percent of American doctors as members. Today, the AMA represents only a third of American doctors, most of them elderly. Almost 90 percent of doctors over age of 70 are members, but fewer than 35 percent of those aged 30 to 49 belong to the AMA

Its decline in membership and influence can be traced to its political positions and financial arrangements. Indeed, the majority of American physicians favor a national healthcare plan:

Of more than 2,000 doctors surveyed, 59 percent said they support legislation to establish a national health insurance program, while 32 percent said they opposed it …

“Many claim to speak for physicians and represent their views. We asked doctors directly and found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, most doctors support national health insurance,” said Dr. Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine, who led the study…

The Indiana survey found that 83 percent of psychiatrists, 69 percent of emergency medicine specialists, 65 percent of pediatricians, 64 percent of internists, 60 percent of family physicians and 55 percent of general surgeons favor a national health insurance plan.

The AMA is opposed to healthcare reform? Who cares? They don’t represent American physicians and they don’t represent the American people. The represent the worst of American medicine, a dying breed that deserves to fade into ignominy.