Can the American Medical Association still be an influential voice in health reform?

The repercussions after Obama’s speech to the AMA’s delegates continue to be felt.

Not least of which are the murmurings of the other professional physician groups, who say that the AMA does not represent a majority of physicians. In this piece from pediatrician Rahul Parikh, he notes that about 30 percent of physicians are AMA members. Remaining doctors belong to groups with more liberal political leanings, including the American College of Physicians, for instance (in interests of full disclosure, I am a member of the ACP, but I do not always agree with some their positions like, for instance, their stated support for a single-payer system).

Which goes to say that there is a wide disparity in physician views when it comes to health reform. For every physician who supports a Medicare for all, you’ll find another that just as vehemently opposes it. None was that more apparent than the anecdotes from this piece in HealthLeaders Media, which details some of the conflicts within the AMA membership when it came to supporting the public option, or not.

According to that article, “AMA delegates this week spent several hours in an emotional debate–one member who was there called it ‘knockdown, drag out’–between left wing and right wing members who disagreed over how to weigh in their voice on President Barack Obama’s push for a public plan,” and not surprisingly, according to one doctor who was there, “It broke down between the right and the left. The right outnumber the left, but people on the left are about as loud as the people on the right.”

As I mentioned, it’s really too early to form a substantive opinion on the public plan option, as there are not enough concrete details. Again, if it forces doctors to participate, and pays close to Medicare rates, I’ll oppose it. If it’s an option that competes fairly with the other insurance options, I won’t have a problem with it. Time will tell.

Back to the original issue of whether the AMA is relevant. It obviously is. After all, President Obama chose to speak to their members, and not to those of the other organizations. And, it appears, that despite his reservations, Dr. Parikh realizes this as well, saying, “like so many influential organizations, the number of doctors who comprise the AMA matters less than their influence in the beltway—they still are a potent Congressional lobby.”

And in the current health reform environment, that’s what perhaps matters most.