Amid the many challenges facing physicians, health care and the nation, it is doctors' ability and willingness to work together as a team that will carry the day and move medicine forward, AMA President David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, said at the opening session of the 2017 AMA Interim Meeting in Honolulu.

In the case of the AMA and its members, the team’s goals include policies that foster practice sustainability and patients’ access to affordable health care, stemming the tide of chronic disease and reshaping medical education to prepare the next generation of physicians. 

“Every member of the House of Delegates is a physician leader, and each committed to our group mission of promoting the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health,” Dr. Barbe said. “However, our success will be determined by how well we … work together, as a team, to achieve our common goals." 

Wins for physicians

Dr. Barbe celebrated several of the Association’s recent policy victories and the collaborative efforts that made them realities.

These include lobbying to stop insurance mega mergers, including the defeated Anthem-Cigna merger. Had it gone through, that merger alone would have cost physicians an estimated $500 million annually in reduced payments.

Dr. Barbe also touted the AMA’s success in calling for simple, less punitive rules in the new Medicare payment system, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) Quality Payment Program (QPP). Wins on this front have included retroactive policy changes to align Medicare’s old reporting programs with the new Medicare Incentive-based Payment System, provisions to level the field for small practice physicians and postponing a mandate for physicians to upgrade their electronic health records.

Dr. Barbe touted ongoing efforts to shape policy on behalf of physicians and patients. Chief among them is the continuing health-system reform dialogue. The Association has worked to urge Congress to find bipartisan, lasting solutions.

The AMA has made a substantial mark on the health care debate, Dr. Barbe said, with an independent analysis finding that the organization registered a 48 percent share of voice in the media on leading discussion on the topic.

“Sometimes, for winning teams, it’s all about the defense,” Dr. Barbe said. “And, while it’s impossible to predict where the debate will go from here, our steadfast commitment to putting patients first and our unwillingness to be drawn into the partisan quagmire will continue to reassure the public that the AMA—as the house of medicine—is a voice of reason in Washington.”

Dr. Barbe highlighted several other advocacy efforts, such as allowing physicians to refuse virtual credit card payments from insurers and preventing health information technology vendors from blocking information or making it costly for physicians to share data.

The Association is also working against unconscionable high drug prices through the Truth in Rx campaign. A petition calling on Congress to increase pharmaceutical price transparency has garnered more than 150,000 signatures.

The AMA also is working to end the opioid epidemic. Opioid prescriptions have decreased in every state, but work remains, Dr. Barbe said.

“Physicians must continue to lead in their own practices and advocate for more resources, more treatment options and coverage, better access to multimodal pain care, and to combat the stigma that often prevents patients from seeking treatment,” he added.  

Finding the right teammates

The health-system reform debate is one on which the AMA has partnered with outside organizations to benefit the nation’s health. Another such initiative, mentioned during Dr. Barbe’s speech, is the Association’s efforts to alleviate the burden of chronic disease that is widely affecting patients and draining the nation’s resources.

In partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, the AMA is making a meaningful impact. The success of these collaborative efforts is evident in several areas, with nearly half a million people completing an AMA-endorsed online prediabetes screening tool and insurers and Medicare moving toward covering diabetes prevention programs.

“If, working in partnership with patients and outside organizations, we can slow the progress of these chronic diseases or prevent them altogether, that will be a significant victory for public health, and will mean a much brighter future for our patients,” Dr. Barbe said.

The speech also included a nod to the AMA’s efforts to create a more well-rounded generation of physicians through its Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative. The 32 schools in the consortium recognized a need to modernize the medical school curriculum and have made significant changes to their offerings during the four years the program has been in effect.

Those curricular changes have included a focus on taking a macro view of health care. Students are now being trained to understand health systems as a whole. That perspective aims to give them the tools to be leaders and innovators.

It is these kinds of meaningful, winning efforts that are drawing “extremely positive” reactions from AMA members and non-members alike as Dr. Barbe travels the country to update physicians about the Association’s activities.

He told delegates that they should not be shy about being “enthusiastic” fans of the AMA team, to detail the Association’s victories, share their own stories and they are members and to discuss membership’s many benefits.

“We know that membership moves medicine,” Dr. Barbe said. “Let’s help our colleagues want to be part of our winning team—part of our AMA.”

Read more news coverage from the 2017 AMA Interim Meeting. 

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