Saturday, November 13, 2010

Debrief from the Doctor Congress

One of the hats I wear is to represent UC Davis as the Alternate Delegate for the American Medical Association (AMA) Medical Students Section. Last week was the annual Interim Meeting down in San Diego, where students and physicians from around the country convened for a week of regional strategy meetings, speeches, and policy steering in regard to the present and future issues facing the medical profession.

The Medical Student Section is the 'kids table' of the organization, where we have the opportunity to set our own policy priorities. The governing body acts much like Congress, with individuals or groups submitting resolutions to change/renew/add policy to the books, the House of Delegates hearing arguments for and against the resolutions, providing amendments, and ultimately voting on each one. Besides getting to say fun things like "Thank you Mr. Speaker...", "Point of order...", and "I move to close debate and call for an immediate vote", the event offered a fascinating look into the spectrum of issues that med students across the country see as important. Major topics included advocating for student debt relief, calling for a study on the effects of agricultural subsidies on access to nutritious food, and supporting the need for broader regulation on direct-to-consumer genetic testing. UC Davis submitted two resolutions to improve Medicaid access near state lines and to advocate for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, both of which passed (good work team!). You can see the full list here.

The Main Event opened following the close of the Med Student Section, where we heard speeches from the President of the AMA among others. Central to the talking points was the fact that even though health reform was a fierce debate fraught with disagreement, coming together and looking forward to effective implementation are the key to ultimately improving the American health care system. Physicians are the glue of the system, and as such must take an active guiding role in this transformation. Here are some of the guiding principles specific to health reform that the AMA decided on:
  • The establishment of accountable care organizations (ACOs) under health reform must be physician-led and patient-centered
  • The flawed Medicare payment formula (called the Sustainable Growth Rate) that threatens a 20% cut to reimbursements must be fixed permanently
  • Medical malpractice (tort) reform was insufficient in the Affordable Care Act, and should be addressed legitimately on the federal level
  • The AMA will initiate a grassroots campaign for adoption of the Medicare Patient Empowerment Act, a proposal that would allow patients to contract privately with physicians while retaining access to Medicare coverage


  1. I am interested in the Medicare Patient Empowerment Act. Would this be similar to the online insurance marketplace? Do you have some physicians/facilities that are already on board?

  2. There could be an opportunity for integration into the new insurance exchanges if such a bill were to gain enough support to pass. The debate is very contentious, though, as this could essentially allow Medicare to become a second-tier health care system with seniors able to purchase private care on their own. As for supporters, the Coalition of State Medical and National Specialty Societies will most likely lead the charge.