March 08, 2005

AMA, is this all you can do?

I was browsing the web tonight and got an unwelcome pop-up ad from an organization calling itself the "Patients' Action Network." It was the straw that broke the camel's back -- now I'm fed up and pissed off.

I'm one of those people that believe the medical malpractice system needs to be reformed. I also think that the AMA has embarrassed itself over this issue. Just at the time when real leadership is badly needed, especially from physicians, the AMA is abdicating its responsibilities to the nation and behaving like just another narrow special interest group, grubbing for money and pleading for special liability protection.

Case in point, this web site.

The AMA-sponsored "Patients' Action Network" lauds its own site as "an excellent resource for finding out all the critical health care issues facing Americans, including medical liability reform, the Medicare crisis, and more."

But all the website really tells us about medical liability reform is this, and all it tells us about the "Medicare crisis" is this and this.

Go ahead, click on the links. There's virtually nothing there. The AMA could be exercising real leadership, but instead it's just telling us to do two things: rein in "overzealous personal-injury attorneys," and pay doctors more money.

No leadership here, folks. Zilch. Nada.

The AMA has, of course, other websites. But they aren't significantly better on these two issues than their "Patients' Action Network" propaganda piece. That's not surprising. At a time when the public is justifiably concerned about medical errors and the rising costs of health care, the nation's major physician organization is acting like the base, self-interested special interest group that its worst critics accuse it of being.

I wonder why more physicians aren't embarrassed. I suspect many of them just aren't educated enough about either issue to notice the AMAs abdication of responsibility. But there are plenty of others, I suspect, for whom the AMA's short-sighted bawling for more money is just what the doctor ordered. They see no problem with the AMA as just another lobbyist, especially when it lobbies for them.

But the AMA is more than a lobbyist. It has more responsibilities than just sticking up for doctors. The nation has granted the medical profession a substantial amount of discretion to police itself, and much of this policing is performed through the AMA. In exchange for this deference, the AMA owes it to the nation as a whole to exercise real leadership on issues related to the practice of medicine.

Physicians like to complain that the medical profession's traditional perogative to police itself has been eroded. If the AMA continues to act like the American Used-Car Dealers' Association, this erosion will likely continue.

Posted by Carey at March 8, 2005 11:37 PM
Comments

But Carey, we've both sold out to the dark side, we are infected with the malignant lawyer gene. It is all the lawyers' fault... It is all the lawyers' fault...

I completely agree with you - The AMA should be ashamed of the way they address this issue. And the way they are behaving is going to come back and bite them in the ass when we get a few years down the road and these caps (assuming they get passed) don't do anything to prevent future rate increases. I can't tell you how many times I have fully discussed the issue with my friends from med school. Without fail, they all end up saying, "Huh? Why doesn't the AMA tell me about all the facts? Maybe caps aren't the answer."

Medicine has been down this road before in the 70's and 80's. Caps didn't work then and they won't work now. It is such a myopic view of the current problem. Troyen Brennan and others up at Harvard have actually looked at the data regarding this "crisis" -
guess what they found? Doctors aren't leaving the practice in droves, caps don't work, screening panels don't work, etc, etc.

There is also a new article suggesting that, in practice, what happens with caps on noneconomic damages is simple cost shifting. The lawyers push for more money in economic damages, so any cost savings are a wash.

Carey, there is a reason that the fewer than 25% of physicians belong the AMA. They lack true leadership and do not represent the majority of physicians.

Posted by: Cobin Soelberg at March 9, 2005 08:27 PM