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American Medical Association's 2006 Annual Meeting, June 10-14, 2006

American Medical Association's 2006 Annual Meeting

At the annual House of Delegates meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA), which took place June 10-14 in Chicago, delegates dealt with a large agenda that included public health issues, politics, money and more politics and money.

"The delegates are looking at a lot of different issues that are important to doctors across the country," said AMA president-elect Ronald M. Davis, M.D. "These include some big public health issues, such as the obesity epidemic, the problems of tobacco and alcohol use, and the need to have an adequate supply of flu vaccine."

The delegates did pass measures calling for dramatic reductions in the amount of salt Americans consume, the banning of liquor ads at college sports events, a moratorium on direct-to-consumer advertisements for newly approved drugs and support of a Smoke-Free America. On the other hand, the delegates voted against a measure supporting a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened sodas.

A policy was passed on physician involvement in interrogations. "That topic has been getting a lot of attention because of the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and other places," Davis said. "Doctors should not be directly involved in interrogations or executions, because in many ways these things go against the underlying tenets of health care and the underlying ethics of our profession, which is to prevent disease and death and relieve suffering."

There were also big health care policy issues discussed. "First and foremost is the medical liability crisis that we are in right now, with medical liability premiums going through the ceiling forcing many doctors to retire early or change their practice or leave their state," Davis said. Twenty-one states are in a full-blown crisis, and most of the rest are facing a looming crisis, he said. "The AMA is supporting legislation in Congress and in state legislatures to reform the tort system by placing a cap on pain and suffering," he said.

Another major issue was Medicare payments to doctors, Davis said. "Medicare payment has been under threat of huge cuts year after year after year, and we have a flawed formula that determines Medicare payments that result in cuts unless Congress intervenes," he said. This year, Medicare payments have been frozen, and they are scheduled to be cut by 5 percent on January 1 and by 37 percent over the next nine years, Davis said. "When these cuts happen, doctors can no longer maintain their practice for senior citizens because their costs exceed what they are paid by the government or by private insurers, who tend to pay whatever the government pays," he added.

"We are fighting to have the government increase the Medicare payment so that it matches the cost of the physician practice, that's all we're asking -- just match the rate of medical inflation," Davis said.

Another major priority for the AMA is health care for the uninsured. "We think it's unacceptable, it's a scandal that 47 million Americans in the richest country in the world do not have adequate health insurance coverage," Davis said. "We have a plan to address that which involves restructuring our health care system by providing refundable tax credits to individuals to allow them to buy their own health insurance," he said. "Our program would cover about 94 percent of Americans, if implemented."

The plan the AMA did adopt at the meeting would require that many uninsured Americans purchase health insurance or face tax penalties.

The AMA has been participating in a coalition to bring all the different stakeholders around the table to come up with a consensus plan to address the problem of the uninsured, Davis noted.

In terms of a single payer health insurance system, the AMA is still against it. "We would not have a serious consideration of a single payer system any time soon, because most people are leery about putting so much control in the hands of government," Davis said. "We are already dealing with major problems with Medicare becoming insolvent."

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