As you may have heard, there was a pretty big health care meeting in Chicago earlier this week. Throngs of physicians descended on the Hyatt Regency along the banks of the mighty Chicago River to discuss some of the nation's most vexing health care problems (more on that to come).
Sadly, I was too busy with other deadlines to make the walk down Wacker Drive to attend, but like many of you I'm sure, I did my best to keep up with the news coming from the gathering of the nation's largest physician organization. Perhaps most significantly, the House of Delegates (if you've never been to an AMA annual meeting, it is a sight to behold. It's like watching a mini-Congress—committee reports, hearings and resolutions culminate in debate and votes by the full House of Delegates. They take it very seriously) reaffirmed its support for health reform's so-called individual mandate—although the doctor's group prefers the term "individual responsibility." By most reports, it was actually a pretty spirited debate. Several medical societies urged the AMA to rescind its support of the provision, which requires that individuals obtain some form of health insurance—public or private—starting in 2014 or face a penalty.
Delegates also approved a resolution directing the AMA to "vigorously work" to "achieve needed reforms to many of the defects" in the Affordable Care Act. In particular, they want to do away with the Independent Payment Advisory Board, enact a long-term fix to the Medicare physician payment mess, pass tort reform and give physicians collective bargaining power. AMA members also agreed to look at restructuring its membership model and organizational structure. Membership has been on a steady decline for some years now, with a 5 percent drop last year.
So those were the headline stories, but as is always the case at the AMA annual meeting, the delegates tackled some issues that may have slipped past your eyes as you scrolled through BlackBerry messages.
Airport body scanners:
The House of Delegates decided there wasn't enough information available to determine if full-body scanners now deployed in some of the nation's airports are hazardous to your health. And you thought it was just a personal privacy issue. According to the AMA press release, "There is growing public concern about the use of full-body scanners that rely on ionizing radiation as part of new airport security measures, and whether or not repeated exposure to these scanners is potentially harmful. This weekend at its annual meeting, the AMA discussed the public health safety and efficacy of airport security scanners and determined there is currently little evidence to suggest one way or another if these scanners have adverse health effects on travelers, and more independent research needs to be done."
Paying the price for fast food:
The AMA wants McDonalds, Wendy's, Burger King and other fast-food joints to stop gouging customers who just want a healthy meal. Medical students brought forth a resolution that calls for price parity. I don't eat fast food, but apparently it costs a lot more to buy milk and an apple vs. pop and fries. Delegates also approved language noting that parents need to promote healthy choices for their kids. As regular readers of this blog know, I'm not an apologist for fast-food restaurants, but do believe that parents need to exercise more control over their children's eating and lifestyle behaviors.
And finally, my favorite bit of news from the entire meeting:
The AMA officially opposes competitive speed eating. The House of Delegates approved a resolution brought up by the Young Physicians section, which said that the contests pose pretty significant health risks for participants, including vomiting, reflux, choking, stomach rupture, diabetes, and enamel erosion. To be sure, these are serious medical issues and no laughing matter, but it's incredible that we've gotten to the point where we need to warn people about the dangers of shoveling 20 hot dogs and wet buns down their throat in 10 minutes. What's even more ridiculous? You can spend your July 4 watching Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN. Set those DVRs.