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Wilson: AMA Reaffirms Support for Individual Mandate

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

June 21, 2011 -- American Medical Association President Cecil B. Wilson said that the physician organization's House of Delegates voted "overwhelmingly" to reaffirm its position supporting "individual responsibility" when it comes to the purchase of health insurance as long as assistance is made available to those who cannot afford it.

Essentially, Wilson was saying that the AMA was not backtracking on its support of the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) and its requirement that Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Wilson was asked in a press call after the vote about a claim by one delegate that 4,000 doctors in Missouri dropped out of the AMA because of their unhappiness with the individual mandate. "It is a contentious issue for this country," Wilson said.

"We're still dealing with the debate about health system reform some 13 or 14 months after the law passed, and we're in the process of implementation. So it would be surprising if physicians who care most deeply about their patients and who are most intimately involved in providing health care would not feel some of that challenge in terms of making decisions.

"What I would tell you is that the vote of the House today was overwhelming." The House "came to a decision to reaffirm a policy that was originally established in the middle of the last decade. We're proud of that, and the AMA believes that that's the right course," Wilson said.

Wilson said AMA membership dropped between 1 percent and 2 percent more last year than it did the previous year. Some doctors said they were dropping out because of the health care law, and others said they were joining because of it, he said. But "we do not believe that the debate over health system reform had a significant effect in regard to our membership," he said.

An AMA statement elaborated on the reasons for sticking with the individual mandate. "The AMA's policy supporting individual responsibility has bipartisan roots, helps Americans get the care they need when they need it and ends cost-shifting from those who are uninsured to those who are insured," Wilson said in the statement. "Important insurance market reforms, such as an end to coverage denials based on pre-existing conditions, are only possible by having broad participation in the health insurance market."

Delegates also "reaffirmed support for AMA policy supporting health insurance tax credits and health insurance market regulation, health savings accounts, and direct subsidies for the coverage of high risk patients," the statement said.

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