Sunday, June 14, 2009

AMA Opposes Obama Health Care Plan - Breaking News?

Later today, President Obama will address the American Medical Association (AMA) in Chicago. I suppose that if the administration can make soft overtures to Iran, that it can also present its health care plan to physicians. The organization has already expressed its opposition to the president’s public option proposal, at least in its current form, which is regarded either as a panacea or a poison pill, depending upon your health care ideology. Some have accused the AMA of pursuing its own partisan agenda to protect physicians’ incomes rather than sacrificing a few dollars for the greater good. To this charge, issued by Kool-Aide drinking Obamophiles, I say guilty!

Of course, the AMA supports physicians’ interests. Although I am not a member of the organization, I have always regarded it as a physician protector rather than as an advocate for the public interest. It’s history doesn’t inspire confidence that the organization is a paragon of humanitarianism. Recall that over 10 years ago, the ham-handed AMA entered into a product endorsement agreement with the Sunbeam Corporation. Under this arrangement, which was hatched in secret in a back room, the AMA agreed to issue ‘seals of approval’ to various Sunbeam products in return for truckloads of cash. A useful litmus test to gauge if an activity is ethical is to consider if one would be comfortable explaining the action in public. The AMA might consider this strategy if they are asked, for example, to sell its endorsement to the cigarette or alcoholic beverage industries. When the Sunbeam deal was announced, the AMA membership and the public were outraged. (The AMA wasn’t even required to test any of the products it would endorse.) Under a cloud of shame, the AMA withdrew from the corrupt bargain. After this profound breach of ethics, the AMA then faced a breach of contract lawsuit. They lost. The nearly $10 million dollar settlement against them included attorney’s fees and expenses for Sunbeam. The magnitude of this settlement suggests that the AMA must have feared a public trial where more dirt and cobwebs from the back room would have been exposed. Afterwards, high level AMA leaders were tossed and the wounded organization was left to repair its reputation.

Although the AMA is not pure, let’s not pillory them for considering the livelihoods of its members as it adopts health care positions. For those who do take aim at them, there are many other targets that should also be under fire. Many organizations, including the government, have private interests despite lofty mission statements that state a devotion to global goodness.

Do we expect the American Trial Lawyers Association to argue for tort reform, which most of us feel is a just response against metastatic litigation? Are these attorneys, sworn officers of the court, pursuing justice or income preservation? Are we surprised that the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, 2 powerful teachers unions, aren’t demanding that teachers be rewarded for merit instead of for seniority? (They claim that they support merit pay, but then they offer the expected gaping loophole that such a system would have to be ‘fair’.) Are these millions of educators really thinking only of our kids’ welfare? Why doesn’t the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobby to strike down right-to-work statutes that stifle union organization? Are they against the American worker? Individuals, unions, corporations and countries do not follow the Mother Teresa model where serving humanity is their only mission. This does not mean that they are evil, only that there are considerations of self-interest in human and corporate behavior.

For the AMA, it’s not the art of medicine; it’s the art of the deal. Right now, there’s lots of dealing going on around the country, but don’t count on a ‘Sunbeam’ moment to enlighten us. Undoubtedly, many agreements and negotiations are being whispered in private. Will these conversations ever see the light of day? We can only hope that there are a few whistleblowers among them who will make these back room discussions public. Now, this is the kind of ‘public option’ I can support.


  1. Who IS this Kirsch guy? I LIKE THE WAY HE THINKS!!!
    Is he actually one of those so-called "caring doctors" that I've heard about? I'm still too cynical to believe it.

  2. Personal injury lawyers are like mortgage loan originators in the '90s...there is only vast financial incentive to create business, and no meaningful deterrent for misrepresenting facts on application for business.
    Can anybody name a single successful(that is, having recovered a damage award of cost breakeven) 'malicious prosecution' or 'abuse of process' lawsuit by a doc against a lawyer?
    Can anybody cite case law of legal malpractice which awarded monetary compensation for pain and suffering or loss of consortium?
    Doctors need to make public aware of the bizarre protections attorneys enjoy, in that there is no practical recourse available to victims of their professional malfeasance.

  3. There is no American Trial Lawyers Association.

  4. Anonymous, you are mistaken. Here's the link.

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