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Why the AMA Wants to Muzzle Your Doctor

May 07, 2010

The American Medical Association (AMA) is putting the doctors of America on notice. A major cheerleader for ObamaCare, the organization is now trying to silence doctors who oppose it. It is time the American people understood what the AMA is really all about.

Last month, not long after a Florida urologist placed a sign in his door making it clear that patients who voted for President Obama were not welcome in his practice, the AMA issued the following statement: “[P]hysicians might reflect on how to properly balance their obligations as members of the medical profession with their rights as individual citizens who will be affected by reform. In particular, physicians may wonder whether it is appropriate to express political views to patients or their families.” The statement goes on to say that while the AMA “supports the right of physicians to free political speech and encourages them to exercise the full scope of their political rights . . . physicians should conduct political communications with sensitivity to patients’ vulnerability and desire for privacy.”

Many doctors interpreted this as an attempt—albeit with verbal parachutes attached—to keep them from sharing their opinions about health-care reform with their patients. This position is troubling on many levels.

The AMA was not only a major supporter of ObamaCare but also an accomplice in its passage. Without the support of the AMA it is quite possible that the health-care reform initiative would have failed. So why the effort to silence other doctors? The AMA is not only worried about protecting this misguided legislation, it is worried about protecting itself.

In the weeks since passage of this 2,700 page bill, more and more of its policy land-mines have exploded, including rising insurance premiums and admissions of inevitable rationing. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of physicians have expressed alarm over the impact that the legislation will have on their patients. This growing opposition makes the actions of the AMA, which represents only 17% of the doctors in the U.S., look very bad.

It is essential to understand the primary reason the AMA stands alongside President Obama on health-care reform. The organization wants to protect a monopoly that the federal government has created for it—a medical coding system administered by the AMA that every health-care professional and hospital must use if they wish to get paid for the services they provide. This monopoly generates income of $70 million to $100 million annually for the AMA. That makes the AMA less an association looking out for doctors and more a special-interest group beholden to Congress and the White House.

This isn’t the first time the AMA has acted in its own selfish interests and not the interests of the medical profession. The last time it had a chance to take a public stand against government intrusion into health care was the HillaryCare fight. The AMA disappeared during this debate, leaving others to fight for doctors and patients.

Yet doctors who oppose ObamaCare have not relented. Passage of this bill has stirred in them long dormant political emotions. Doctors across the country are educating their patients about how ObamaCare will limit their freedom to make their own health-care decisions. There are 925,000 doctors in America and the average doctor has at least 2,000 patients, with many of us already asking our patients if we can take two minutes to discuss this bill with them. This terrifies Congress and the White House.

Did someone in Washington give the AMA the order to muzzle outspoken doctors? Could it be Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, the Malibu coastline representative who calls businesses to appear before his Energy and Commerce Subcommittee if in abiding by securities laws they reveal the hidden costs of ObamaCare? Perhaps it was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has staked her speakership on this bill?

The irony is that in supporting ObamaCare and trying to silence doctors the AMA has forgotten its own mission statement and ethical code: “[T]o help doctors help patients by uniting physicians nationwide to work on the most important professional and public health issues.” It is always medically ethical to tell patients the truth, which is what doctors are now doing by educating them about ObamaCare.

My own group, Docs4PatientCare, which to date represents more than 3,000 doctors, intends to continue providing materials and information to doctors who wish to educate and inform their patients about ObamaCare. We will also continue to challenge ObamaCare advocates whenever they show America the ugly face of intolerance and attempt to silence dissent.

Inasmuch as the AMA is allowed to operate a monopoly under the watchful eye of the federal government, I would expect the GOP Doctors Caucus in the House of Representatives to demand an investigation and request that the AMA fully disclose whether it was pressured by Congressional leadership, the White House or the Department of Health and Human Services to engage in intimidation tactics.

Dr. Scherz, a pediatric urological surgeon at Georgia Urology and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, serves on the faculty of Emory University Medical School and is president and cofounder of Docs4PatientCare.