Tea Party docs: 'Self-serving' AMA betraying physicians, patients

A founder of the National Doctors Tea Party is accusing the American Medical Association of putting profits before its members' interests by supporting healthcare reform.

San Diego anesthesiologist Adam Dorin, founder of PhysiciansAgainstObamacare.org, writes in the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons that the AMA is more interested in its prestige and financial contracts than physicians' interests.

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"The people and doctors of America have been betrayed by self-serving medical leaders" at the AMA, he writes.

The AMA flatly denied the allegation.

"The pending bill is imperfect, but we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to something as important as the health of Americans," then-AMA President James Rohack said in March. "By extending health coverage to the vast majority of the uninsured, improving competition and choice in the insurance marketplace, promoting prevention and wellness, reducing administrative burdens, and promoting clinical comparative effectiveness research, this bill will help patients and their physicians."

Dorin, who has hosted fundraisers for Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, among others, has been one of the leading physician-critics of the healthcare reform law. He and Wayne Iverson, director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), launched the National Doctors Tea Party on Aug. 7 in San Diego.

The AAPS has been a lead critic of the healthcare reform effort and protested the AMA's annual meeting in Houston last year. The conservative organization — it calls Medicare and Medicaid "evil" and recommends that its members not participate — publishes the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. The group been lambasted by the mainstream medical community for suggesting, for example, that candidate Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters.

In his new article, Dorin writes that the AMA makes $70 million to $100 million a year from its exclusive contract with the federal government for the sale of coding books that physicians use to bill insurance. Several conservatives have suggested that proceeds from the coding manual — known as the current procedural terminology, or CPT — weighed heavily in the AMA's decision to support healthcare reform even though it didn't address physician priorities such as reforms of the Medicare payment system and medical malpractice.

"The AMA, it seems, needed only the money it receives from its exclusive coding book contract, and the perception in the mainstream media that it is the primary mouthpiece for doctors nationwide, to disregard the majority dissent within its ranks," Dorin writes.

The AMA has felt compelled to defend its coding books. 

In an Aug. 27 communications piece sent to the group's members, AMA President Cecil Wilson writes that "what is not known, and what is surrounded in mystery and sometimes misperception and falsehood, is where CPT codes came from and how they are maintained."

Wilson goes on to explain that the "agreement is not exclusive (CMS could sanction other code sets) and not binding on private insurance companies. And the AMA derives no income from the federal government on the agreement."

A press release from the AAPS calls that argument "disingenuous."

"The agreement enables the AMA to collect from doctors, who are forced to purchase updated code books each year, and to collect royalties from the licensing of the billing codes. ... For the AMA, CPT is like a ball and chain. If it strays too far from government’s wishes by advocating strongly for doctors, the AMA jeopardizes its cash cow."