Doctors Boo Obama in Chicago

CHICAGO — You would have thought it was Wrigley Field not the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

When President Obama told gathered physicians at the American Medical Association’s annual meeting in his home town this month, “I’m not advocating caps on malpractice awards which I believe can be unfair to people who’ve been wrongfully harmed,” he was booed like Chicago Cub Milton Bradey. “Yank him,” was probably next.

Who remembered that in 1993 a similar message by his Secretary of State–another homey named Hillary–received a standing ovation? (Though the long knives did come out later.)

Of course you can’t blame the 236,000 member AMA for wanting to conduct medicine instead of defensive tests to ward off lawsuits that sit on medicine. Hello?

Less forgivable are the “issues” the AMA pursues like cruise ship hygiene and physician penmanship even as two Iraq wars and one Afghanistan war have raged.

Can we expect resolutions like “AMA Decries Use of Plastic Spatulas,” or “Doctors Worried About Increase in Planetary Tilt,” asked Mark DePaolis, MD in the Star Tribune in 1994.

It’s not that the AMA doesn’t know the issues. It has taken up elder abuse, bullying, corporeal punishment in schools, alcohol abuse, highway safety, binge drinking, medical marijuana, cosmetic sun tanning, medical waste, livestock antibiotics, organ donation, terminal care, physician assisted suicide, women, gay and patient rights, AIDS ethics and patient privacy in the past.

In the 1990’s it confronted Big Tobacco–and embarrassment over its own tobacco stock holdings–with a high profile, physician-led “Dump the Hump,” Walk a Mile Against Joe Camel parade in Chicago’s Loop.

Nor has the AMA shrunk from addressing the “intentional violence” of boxing, violent movies and video games, “private ownership of rapid fire assault rifles” and physician involvement in executions–though a resolution against the death penalty itself was defeated in 2000. (It “wasn’t the AMA’s business,” said Colorado AMA delegate Steven Thorson, MD.)

It’s just that some issues are more equal than others.

So even though AMA delegates passed a resolution against direct to consumer (DTC) drug advertising in 1991– the “ads mislead the public and add to the cost of medication,” it stated–and even though it reaffirmed the stance in 2001–it’s like a competition “to see who can sell more of antihistamines or nasal sprays,” said New Jersey AMA delegate Angelo Agro, MD–the AMA reversed itself in 2005 and decided the notorious, ask-your-doctor ads were a First Amendment issue.

And speaking of the First Amendment, the AMA’s controversial and semi-hidden practice of selling its physicians’ personal prescribing information to marketers was also called “free speech” in recent court rulings in Maine and New Hampshire.

For more than 50 years, the AMA has profited by selling physicians’ personal data “to pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, medical colleges and universities, medical equipment and supply companies, and other institutions interested in supplying goods and services to physicians and group practices,” it admits on its website. “AMA’s Database Licensees are specialized in direct mail, telemarketing, sales call reporting, and other database marketing services,” it says.

Physicians are free to opt out of the $50 million a year scheme, censured at the AMA’s 2007 annual meeting by Lydia Vaias, MD of the National Physicians Alliance and John Santa, MD of the Prescription Project, a group against such access–if they know about it.

But 40 percent of physicians surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2007 didn’t–and 74 percent disapproved.

No, the AMA’s “issues agenda” is as plain as the drug ads which adorned its website as recently as 2007.

Why, for example, does it resolve this year to go after hormone selling “for-profit Web sites, anti-aging clinics and compounding pharmacies,” when it has given hormone giant Wyeth who’s hoaxed women into cancer causing hormone therapy for four decades a pass?

Why resolve this year there is “no need” for more research into a vaccine/autism connection and support “universal vaccination” while pledging to explore non-vaccine links further? Maybe green beans?

Why ignore the taxpayer funded warehousing of so many of the nation’s children, poor and elderly on “atypical antipyschotics” even as over 20 states sue?

And why ignore the epidemic of veteran suicides and suicides on asthma, seizure, pain and anti-smoking medications approved as “safe”?

Why ignore “checkbook science” in a year in which two leading researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, two at Emory University and one at the University of Minnesota are exposed for pay-for-play drug schemes that promote unsafe drugs?

Maybe it’s someone else who should get booed.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her latest book is Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Lies (2023). Her first book was Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Martha.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. joed said on July 4th, 2009 at 4:18pm #

    ms. rosenberg’s articles are usually excellently written, insightful and most informative. i find this article impossible to read. i think what the author is trying to say is very important and needs to be said better.

  2. Steven said on July 4th, 2009 at 5:32pm #

    I had no problem reading it. In any case, joed, if you think you can do better why don’t you do it rather than griping about it?

    Doctors make a lot of money off of drugs. I say end the monopoly on drugs and bring freedom back to the people. But in all seriousness, this article is pissing in the wind. You’re more likely to have George Bush II start to promote green technologies over oil.

  3. J. James Rohack, M.D. AMA President said on July 8th, 2009 at 1:22pm #

    I attended President Obama’s speech to AMA physicians and I can tell you firsthand that he was warmly welcomed by physicians and received more than seven standing ovations. President Obama expressed an openness to medical liability reform as part of comprehensive health reform, and said that he looked forward to working with us after the meeting.

    AMA policy is formed by the AMA’s voting House of Delegates – the nation’s only democratic assembly of physicians and medical students representing all state and specialty medical societies. Policies on legislation, medical ethics, education, practice and science are all debated and voted upon by physician members of the House of Delegates. While we have a broad array of policies that impact patients and physicians, it’s important to note that we are committed to achieving health reform this year that provides all Americans with affordable, high-quality health coverage.

    I welcome you to read my full account of President Obama’s speech to AMA at