Single Payer Advocates to Protest AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago

Single payer advocates will picket the American Medical Association (AMA) annual meeting in Chicago on June 8.

“The AMA has long opposed the implementation of a universal, single-payer health system,” said Jonathan Michels, one of the organizers of the protests against the AMA.

“Recently, the AMA partnered with representatives of the pharmaceutical and private health insurance industries to create The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a benign-sounding corporate front group that we’re calling the ALEC of health care. The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future aims to ‘minimize the potential for Medicare for All in health care from becoming part of a national political party’s platform in 2020.’”

Michels said that “the AMA and corporate medicine is standing in the way of transformative social change so physicians, students, nurses, workers and patients are going to make our voices heard by converging at the organization’s annual meeting in Chicago on June 8.”

“This protest will resurrect a similar rights-based campaign waged throughout the 1960s by the African-American-led National Medical Association, the Medical Committee for Human Rights, and Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s Campaign in which members of these groups squared off against the AMA because of its racist membership policies and its refusal to take a stand against medical apartheid. Among the participants of those actions was Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who co-founded Public Citizen along with Ralph Nader.”

The protests against the AMA are being organized by Physicians for a National Health Program, Students for a National Health Program, National Nurses United, Public Citizen, The Center for Popular Democracy, labor unions, teachers, activists.

There haven’t been protests against the AMA on the question of single payer since the 1960s?

“I’m not aware of any,” Michels told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview. “To my knowledge, the AMA annual meetings have not been picketed on the issue of universal health care, single payer since the 1960s. I know from some research that I’m doing that other physician groups have protested the AMA, but the ones that I am aware of are actually in favor of more market based approaches. They are even further to the right than the AMA.”

Don’t polls show that a majority of doctors support single payer?

“The polls that I have seen are from the Chicago Medical Society. That is an affiliate of the AMA. They conducted a poll that showed that 56 percent of practicing physicians support single payer. The AMA’s own affiliate found that the majority of physicians support single payer.”

What is the current position of the AMA on single payer?

“The current position is that any health reform that moves away from a mix of government and market should be opposed. Anything bordering on a public option or single payer is opposed by the AMA.”

There were reports in the news earlier this year that the AMA has partnered with the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to create something called The Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future. That is a corporate front group that wants to defeat single payer.

“Yes. And The Intercept has done some good reporting showing that they are not just against Medicare for All. They are trying to target Democrats. They know they have Republicans in their corner. Now they are trying to put pressure on Democrats to waver on the issue of Medicare for All or to come out and oppose it directly.”

“They are good at confusing the situation. They come out with watered down health care reform that in essence ties patient health care to the private health insurance industry, to markets. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a good example of this.”

“At first, Barack Obama was a single payer supporter. He worked alongside people like Quintin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program in Chicago. Obama was a supporter of single payer when he was a state Senator in Illinois.”

“Then when he arrived in Washington, seemingly overnight, he turned away from single payer. With help from the health insurance industry and the AMA, Obama whittled the ACA down from what it was originally was – not single payer, but it had a public option. They got rid of the public option and molded it into what they wanted.”

“And the AMA continues to advocate for the ACA. They will push health reform in lieu of Medicare for All. I wouldn’t be surprised if they unveil new plans that fall short of Medicare for All.”

What are the medical groups that support Medicare for All?

“Physicians for a National Health Program. There is a medical student group called AMSA – American Medical Student Association. The history behind AMSA is important.”

“In 1967, in the midst of these protests that were happening, members of the AMA student group left the AMA. They left the AMA over its refusal to support universal health care, its racist membership policy and its stance on the Vietnam War. They split off and formed their own group –  which is AMSA. They continue to support single payer.”

How do you explain the AMA’s opposition to single payer given that the majority of doctors support single payer?

“The AMA, although they say they speak for the majority of physicians, they don’t. One estimate is that the AMA accounts for only 15 percent of physicians in the United States. They do have a lot of money. They are the third largest lobbying organization over the last twenty years behind the National Realtors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

“The membership is small. They have a lot of money. I would imagine that many of the AMA doctors believe that their patients have a right to equitable health care. But that doesn’t change the fact that the culture of the AMA remains committed to being the reputable face of market medicine. And that is sadly what it has devolved into.”

“In an effort to maintain their own supremacy in the early 1900s against the rise of farmer coops and different communities who were coming together to take control over their own health care needs, the AMA would move in to quash these efforts through policies and laws to shore up their own supremacy. They worked as hard as they could to tie the average American’s health insurance to the private health insurance market.”

“The AMA is the reputable face for a health insurance industry that is not trusted. Americans are too smart. The insurance industry cannot come out and lobby on its own behalf. They need an organization like the AMA to come out for them. Who better than physicians to front for the insurance industry?”

Has there been any effort from within the AMA to challenge for power?

“I am aware of a few recent instances. After the medical students left in 1967, a new group within the AMA was formed for medical students. Their medical student section actually adopted a resolution last June. It was a resolution in support of adopting universal single payer health care.”

“To my knowledge, it was the first time ever that an AMA section has voted to support national single payer. There is resistance even within the AMA.

What events are being planned for June 8?

“We will first gather at the Blue Cross Blue Shield headquarters in Chicago. We will have several speakers there. They will lead us in a march from the Blue Cross Blue Shield headquarters to the Hyatt Regency, where the AMA is holding its annual meeting. And there will be several speakers there.”

And this will be outside the Hyatt Regency?


Is there going to be any inside action?

“Not that I am aware of.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Jonathan Michels, see 33 Corporate Crime Reporter 23(13), Monday June 10, 2019, print edition only.]

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