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Civil War? Maine, Florida Medical Associations Battling Over AMA Role In Health Reform

The Florida Medical Association’s controversial decision to express a lack of confidence in the American Medical Association is drawing criticism from its northern counterpart in Maine, which says it’s time to support AMA leaders. In response, an unrepentant FMA says it hopes the medical establishment is not “circling the wagons.”

The brouhaha began before the FMA’s annual meeting in August, with a motion introduced by Fort Myers plastic surgeon Douglas Stevens calling for a severing of relations with the AMA over its support for the new law.

Stevens said he felt the government was trying to take over the health care system and that physicians should form a new organization that would more actively fight the changes. He complained that AMA’s support for recent reforms was “a severe intrusion in the patient-physician relationship and allows government control over essentially all aspects of medical care.”

When the FMA House of Delegates met behind closed doors, it voted to amend the resolution to a less-drastic alternative: a letter conveying a vote of ‘no confidence.’ A written statement released afterward stated: “The FMA House of Delegates strongly believes that the American Medical Association has failed to represent practicing physicians on the issue of health care reform.”

Just last week, Maine’s Medical Association responded, writing in a letter to the national organization: “At a time when it is critically important for physicians, as a profession, to stand together, [the FMA] action threatens the very principles that our AMA was founded upon.”

While each state society has the opportunity to participate in electing trustees and officers to the national group, the Sept. 23 letter says, it’s smart to support those leaders when the votes are counted.

“A football team whose members brawl among themselves will not win,” the letter says. “A country whose elections are followed by secession attempts will not survive. A divided medical community will not be relevant.”

“Now is not the time to squander our influence in petty bickering,” said the letter, signed by the Maine society’s President Jo E. Linder, MD, and Executive Committee Chair Kenneth Christian, MD. They thanked the AMA for its efforts on behalf of America’s physicians.

FMA received a copy of the letter from the Maine group, said spokeswoman Erin Van Sickle, who released a statement, saying that the Maine Medical Association should “respect the right of other state medical associations” to express their opinions.  The statement added:

“The AMA should use this as an opportunity to get better rather than circling the wagons and attempting to squash a dissenting point of view. … The medical community in Maine is homogeneous. The majority of Maine’s physicians practice in a much different environment than Florida’s physicians. By contrast, the FMA represents a diverse group of physicians who practice in many different settings.

“Maine Medical Association represents around 2,000 physicians. With all due respect, we have several counties in Florida that have more physicians than the entire State of Maine.

“The facts speak for themselves – the AMA was unable to leverage their endorsement of the Federal health care reform bill into any substantial victories for physicians. Every other group – hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and even trial lawyers – were able to negotiate significant concessions in the final bill.

“However, physicians are still stuck with the flawed (payment formula) for Medicare and no meaningful medical liability reforms. … The FMA’s letter does not weaken the AMA. AMA membership has been in decline for the last few years and their effectiveness as an advocacy organization has been called into question by many independent commentators who closely follow the activities on Capital Hill.

“The FMA is simply saying what the vast majority of physicians already think and what many members of Congress have already stated publicly. The FMA’s hope is that the letter will serve the purpose of sending the AMA a wake-up call and inspire the AMA leadership to take a critical look inward to improve the organization.”

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