There's a tendency on the part of the public to view physicians and surgeons in the United States as a reactionary group of greedy business people who are out to make a mint from others' misfortune and helplessness—hence the widespread public acceptance of various national health insurance schemes. When the average citizen hears that representatives of the American Medical Association have been called to testify before a Congressional committee, he has a vision of a group of staunch free market advocates defending the privacy of the individual doctor-patient relationship against the onslaught of various liberal do-gooders—if the citizen happens to be of a conservative bent he cheers for the AMA and if a liberal he cheers for the legislators. But in either case the citizen thinks that the testimony of organized medicine is always a reflexive "no" to any governmental health program.
The citizen is mistaken.
Far from being the poor, oppressed victims of the State, M.D.'s, through their major professional organization (the AMA), are major supporters of government intervention into the medical market place. In the past Congressional session, the AMA sponsored or supported over 26 pieces of legislation, all calling for more government intervention, not less.
For instance, the American Medical Association has testified many times over the years in favor of governmental financial assistance to medical schools, medical students, nurses, students, schools of public health, etc., and they repeated their testimony this summer, calling for maximum funding under the Comprehensive Health Manpower Training Act of 1971. Apparently the AMA not only wants to run a closed shop (since the law specifies that medical schools and their graduates must be AMA-certified in order to teach or practice medicine) but it wants the taxpayer to foot the bill! True, getting a medical education is expensive (most things in limited supply are expensive, and the requirement of AMA accreditation for medical schools assures a limited supply of schools) but once that education is obtained the new M.D. can expect to make $50,000+ per year. Perhaps the medical students could use loans, but they hardly need subsidies!
Another program the AMA supported was the Indian Health Care Improvement Act based on 25 specific recommendations the AMA House of Delegates adopted for improving the health of American Indians. It's unclear whether the Indians were consulted in the matter, but it is clear that the AMA's paternalism was hardly consistent with the private, voluntary physician-patient relationship the AMA is believed to espouse.
AMA paternalism is also in evidence in their support for an extension of the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Act, which calls for, in essence, taking one citizen's money in order to prevent another citizen from spending his money on booze. Along that same line, the AMA supported a three-year extension of the Drug Abuse Education Act, which aims to control and eliminate drug abuse through education about drugs. (Apparently they ignored evidence such as that presented by Consumers Union in their book Licit and Illicit Drugs which indicates that drug education programs serve to arouse curiosity about drugs and can actually result in increased drug use among those opposed to the program!)
Another program the AMA has supported is the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act, which aims to control the use of lead-based paint and thereby eliminate the hazards of poisoning, particularly of children. This Act had the apparently unforeseen effect of creating a shortage of low-cost housing in Philadelphia and elsewhere (since landlords couldn't afford to repaint), forcing rents up, even for poor people without small children (few adults need to be protected from the hazards resulting from eating paint).
The above, of course, are only some of the programs the AMA has supported which call for further government involvement in the health services field—others, such as the National Health Insurance/Medicredit program (which is designed to give every person in America under the age of 65 equal access to high quality health care regardless of their ability to pay) and the Hill-Burton Hospital Construction Program (which subsidizes the construction of tax-exempt hospitals and medical centers, and has resulted in a surplus of hospital beds but not a reduction of the cost of hospitalization) have already been criticized in REASON and elsewhere.
The point of the recitation of the "sins" of the AMA is not, however, to attack the physicians of this country, but rather to urge them to wake up to what they are supporting when they join and remain associated with the AMA or any similar statist group. The AMA is not the friend of M.D.'s who value their freedom—next to the government itself, the AMA is the worst enemy a freedom-loving doctor could have.
The AMA, by calling for subsidies for medical education, is calling for making doctors wards of the state—it's the height of naivete to think that a government that finances one's education is not going to demand something in return. Individuals aren't that altruistic and one can't really expect a collective to be, either! Subsidies mark the start of enslavement—it's that simple.
Plus, the AMA, by putting out free market sounding rhetoric praising private practice and the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship at the same time that its representatives are in Washington urging bigger and better government health programs, serves to make all the doctors associated with it look like a bunch of money-grubbing hypocrites. It's no wonder doctors can generate little public support in their fight against socialized medicine!
Now, it's quite possible that the AMA does reflect in its actions as a corporate entity the will of its membership—if so, then the doctors of this country should face up to the fact that they are getting in the way of government coercion exactly what they asked for. It's tragic, but just.
On the other hand, perhaps the AMA's actions do not reflect the wishes of at least some of its members. Perhaps some AMA members are libertarian enough to believe that they and the State should leave each other strictly alone and that Big Brother should butt out of the doctor's office. Perhaps those AMA members should get out of the AMA.
The AMA (and other professional organizations that actively lobby for statist measures) exists because it has the at least tacit sanction of its members. And they in turn are colored by its image. This country is getting closer and closer to compulsory national health care—if any doctors care to resist enslavement now is the time to make a stand, and boycotting an organization that is working hand in glove with the enslavers is a good first step.
Boycott the AMA.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Goodbye AMA".