AMA Escapes Florida Secession, But Message Sent

August 19, 2010

Perhaps Florida surgeon Michael Wasylik summed up the feelings of a lot of physicians nationwide when it comes to the AMA when he recently said, “doctors are so angry they can’t see straight.”

Perhaps Florida surgeon Michael Wasylik summed up the feelings of a lot of physicians nationwide when it comes to the AMA when he recently said, “doctors are so angry they can’t see straight.”

Wasylik made the statement to Health News Florida after the Florida Medical Association decided not to end its relationship with the AMA, but instead send a letter conveying a vote of “no confidence” in the organization.

The association, which represents more than 20,000 physicians, medical students and residents throughout Florida, announced it would consider breaking off its ties with the AMA at its annual meeting, but the measure never came to a vote, according to Health News Florida. No members of the press were allowed at this year’s gathering of physicians.

Wasylik told the online news service that he was opposed to the measure, as it would leave Florida physicians without a national voice, but also noted that “doctors are really, really upset with the AMA.”

The Florida Medical Association’s main point of contention was the AMA’s actions – or perhaps inaction – when it came to federal health reform. The letter the Florida group plans on sending to the AMA will express its frustration for not representing its physicians on healthcare, according to Health News Florida, specifically failing to push for tort reform and fixing the ever-lingering Medicare reimbursement formula.

In a recent blog posting, AMA President Cecil B. Wilson – who attended the meeting in Florida – did not address the possible departure of 20,000 medical professionals from his organization, but did note skepticism on the part of physicians he spoke with on the impact of health reform, and others who “feel that their interests as practicing physicians were given short shrift in the law that passed.”

Specifically addressing Medicare reimbursement and malpractice reform, Wilson called them “grievous omissions” in the federal reform law and “the success of health system reform in the long run will depend on rectifying both.”

He continues, “However, I disagree with the assessment that expanded healthcare coverage and health insurance reform is not good for doctors as well as patients.”

I think Wilson missed the point here. Nowhere in his blog did he address the fact that doctors in Florida, and increasingly nationwide, are losing faith in the AMA and how it represents physicians. Nowhere did he address how the AMA addressed tort reform and Medicare payments as battles hard-fought in Washington, D.C., during the creation of the reform law, nor what it plans to do now.

Essentially, Wilson ignored the real issue here. If Florida voted to leave the AMA, other state medical associations could follow, taking with them physicians and membership fees. Perhaps the threat of one of the largest states from his union did not rattle Wilson or the AMA, but is should be a warning shot that other medical associations could decide that the AMA no longer truly represents them.

I tried to get further comment from the AMA on the potential secession of the Florida Medical Association, but never got a reply in return.

I’m not confident that the Florida Medical Association’s letter will do any real good, but I hope at least attending its gathering and hearing what doctors have to say about his organization will give Wilson perhaps a little more to think about in terms of the strength of his association today and in the future.

It is hard to sit and listen to criticism, no doubt. But it is tougher to actually take a stand and do something about it. The ball – and the Florida Medical Association’s letter – is in the AMA’s court. Let’s see what they do with it.