This week President Obama addressed a meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA), amid media reports that the AMA will oppose the president's call for a public health insurance option.
Over the last 50 years, the AMA has stood on the opposing side of numerous positive proposals for health care improvement. As a result, AMA membership has dwindled to less than 20% of practicing physicians. Most of their members no longer represent the views of most American physicians. Unfortunately, the AMA may again stand against a reasonable approach to providing assistance to unemployed and middle class families struggling to buy health insurance -- the proposed public health plan.
The AMA opposed a similar proposal introduced in the 1960's, which we now know as Medicare. The AMA spent heavily to oppose Medicare, driven primarily over concerns for physician's wages. If the AMA had their way in the 1960's most seniors would have gone bankrupt in order to get needed care. Fortunately, Medicare survived and has been improving coverage and care for seniors ever since. Hopefully, a public sponsored health insurance plan will survive and serve the public, as well.
The proposed public health plan would allow people who do not have employee sponsored insurance and cannot afford expensive, individual plans to pool their risk with others in similar circumstances and buy insurance at a more affordable rate. A similar concept has existed in Massachusetts since 2006. The Massachusetts health system has not fallen apart and the care provided at their world-renowned medical centers has not deteriorated. Similarly, doctors have not fled for the state's borders.
Instead, the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector has produced the lowest incidence of uninsured in the country (2.6%). Their public health insurance plan is called Commonwealth Care. It is available for as little as $39/month and free if an individual makes less than 150% of the poverty level. In recent surveys, support for the program is up, with nearly 70% of residents holding a favorable view.
As for the AMA, I almost feel sorry for them. I joined the AMA as a medical student, because it was cheaper than buying the atlas and journal that came free with membership, but I have not subscribed since. Instead, a new generation of physicians have found a voice in organizations like the National Physicians Alliance and Doctors for America, which seek to improve and enhance health care, through initiatives that focus on our patients and society first. These organizations do not accept money from pharmaceutical companies or sell members addresses to marketing companies.
Most physicians went into medicine because it allowed us to heal, comfort and help people. Sadly, the AMA feels like it exists only to help doctors help themselves. That is why the AMA does not speak for me.
I do hope that the AMA reconsiders its initial stance on a public health insurance option. Similarly, I hope the Obama administration reconsiders concerns voiced by the AMA regarding the need for malpractice reform. Tort reform is critical, as it adversely affects our whole system... but more on that in my next post.