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Inaugural address
2001 Annual Meeting
Farewell address
2001 Annual Meeting
Finance presentation
2001 Annual Meeting
Remarks of the executive vice president
2001 Annual Meeting
"Taking on our share of the global health burden: Opportunities for the physicians of America"
2001 Annual Meeting
Panel remarks Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
2001 Board of Commissioners Retreat
AMA update: A prescription for hope and health
Medical Society of the State of New York
Putting the "care" back in Medicare -- and managed care
North Shore / Long Island Jewish Health System
"Media and violence: Where does the buck stop?"
21st Annual Medical Communications and Health Reporting Conference
The role of organized medicine and the future health of Hispanic families
National Hispanic Medical Association

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America Has Turned the Corner
President’s Address, 2000 AMA Annual Meeting

Chicago Hilton Hotel and Towers
Chicago, Illinois
Sunday, June 11, 2000
9:30 a.m.

Thomas R. Reardon, MD
American Medical Association

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

The few steps I just took to get up here mark the end of a year-long, continent-spanning, soul-enriching journey.

And I end this journey the same way I began it by, thanking each of you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege, the honor, the trust, the confidence you placed in me one year ago.

Being President of the American Medical Association, being your representative in Washington, in literally every state of the Union even in Europe at the World Medical Association meeting, being an eye-witness to history on your behalf -- all of that is extremely satisfying and humbling.

So, I must say “thank you” and “thank you” again.

And I can report to you that we have achieved many successes. Too many to list. But each is a hard-won, hard-earned victory.

And, as a result, the net effect today is that the image of medicine in America is the highest it has been in decades. For we are advocating for those things that resonate well with the American people.

At a recent conference, I addressed a meeting of top executives from Corporate America. I pointed out to them what a respected futurist from Denmark said about health care.That scholar, Rolf Jensen, predicted that in the next two decades health care would come full circle, from its present institutional and bureaucratic approach back to home-like care and concern, where effective treatment would place the main emphasis on caring.

And, in a very real sense, we have been working to put care back into healthcare with our advocacy.

And, that leads me to tell you this morning about some of the major contributions the AMA has made in the last 12 months.

First was a new venture for the AMA, a foray into presidential politics called the American Medical Association National House Call.

It began last December with a letter that might be considered a bit audacious, a letter we sent to all presidential candidates.

That letter said, “No candidate can or should be elected unless they support the health care issues important to the American public.”

All the polls put health care issues at the top as we in this room well know.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll in November showed 82 percent of Americans, four out of every five, call HMO excesses a serious problem 85 percent said health coverage for all Americans was a key issue. In the spring, other surveys showed one-third of Americans felt health care issues were urgent and another third said “very urgent.”

So, we launched the National House Call campaign a grassroots effort to ask six questions wrapped around three basic issues.

First , the Patients’ Bill of Rights.

Second, Health care coverage for all Americans.

And third, Medicare Reform.

Our goals were simple and direct.

First, to bring the issues to the candidates so they would have to address them.

Second, to bring the issues to the media to keep them high-profile and visible.

Third, to bring the issues to the public to educate and to create an informed electorate.

We talked about a Patients’ Bill of Rights that really was for patients.

  • That determination of medical necessity should be made by their physicians not by bureaucrats.

  • That everyone in managed care should be covered by the bill of rights.

  • That an appeals process be established that is independent, external, binding.

  • And that health plans be held legally accountable when they make decisions that are negligent and result in harm to patients.

We pointed out as the campaign evolved that the House of Representatives had passed the Norwood-Dingell Bill which is a strong Patients’ Bill of Rights.

But the Senate passed a weak, water-down bill which protected managed care and put profits before patients.

Now the issue still is in Conference Committee still not enacted into law.

To move things along we sent a message to several members of the Senate who sit on that Conference Committee. We ran advertisements and we repeated our basic theme, suggesting that the voters ask their Senators where they stood on the Patients’ Bill of Rights.

This is not a Democratic issue.

It is not a Republican issue.

This is a patient issue.

I have delivered and continue to deliver a strong message.

If the Congress of the United States does not do the right thing and pass a strong Patients’ Bill of Rights, we will make this an election issue in the fall.

We will take this to the voters.

We will continue our efforts this year, next year, the year after that, until they get it right.

In a similar vein, we have worked and will continue to work on the issue of health care coverage for all Americans. The 40-45 million uninsured who lack coverage. In the past, you and I could provide care through the cost-shift or with charity care.

However, the pressures of cost and managed care are limiting our ability to provide care through the cost-shift and charity care.

So, the AMA took the initiative last year and called a major Health Sector Assembly. More than 60 representatives from every part of the healthcare spectrum came together. Not to solve problems but to identify the problems, to agree on the problems and determine whether we had the will the commitment to solve them.

And indeed we found the will and the commitment.

We established several principles of which four deserve special mention:

  • We should look at health care coverage is an investment in the infrastructure of the nation, its people;

  • We should identify a basic benefits package that all Americans should have access to;

  • We should do nothing to disturb the 85 percent of Americans now covered;

  • And we should not expect that there is a single, simple solution.

Our third issue in the National House Call campaign was Medicare. We consistently and repeatedly hammered home the need for significant Medicare reform. We have called for a stable program that will be there for our children and grandchildren. And we called for pharmaceutical benefits for our elderly as Medicare is reformed.

Now lest you think all our efforts have been just on behalf of patients let me tell you about some of our many activities on behalf of physicians:

  • We contacted the Justice Department to express concern over the mergers and consolidation of the insurance industry.

  • We sued HCFA to recover payments to physicians who had been under-paid in the past.

  • We worked with Congressman Bill Thomas to correct errors in HCFA payment systems.

  • We went to court with medical societies in Georgia, in New York and in Pennsylvania, and other states over HMO abuses.

And we’ll keep fighting on behalf of physicians all of this country

For as long as it takes to make certain that Congress, the Courts, the insurance companies do the right thing.

When I spoke to the City Club in Portland, Oregon, last month I reminded them of two speeches they had heard in January when their mayor and the governor of the state presented their State of the City and State of Oregon addresses.

Both spoke of their visions their plans to make Portland and Oregon even better places to be and the programs they thought were needed to do so.

What struck me in particular was an unspoken assumption that all Oregonians would be healthy and active and have a good quality of life. Good health, longevity, a long and active life, a good quality of life don’t just happen.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think that we have a marvelous story to tell about our health care system. But we have not done a good job of telling this story. And I need your help in telling it.

We have been on the defensive over health care costs, quality, errors, for too long.

In the last 100 years, we have almost doubled the life expectancy of Americans.

Since the 1960s alone we’ve added 10 years to that number.

And a year ago in my inaugural address I told you about the many scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century.

Insulin being the first major discovery in the 1920s. Immunization in the ‘20s and ‘30s allowed us to prevent some diseases. Antibiotics in the ‘40s and ‘50s allowed physicians to finally begin to cure certain diseases.

Now, with the human genome project, we are at the dawn of the era of genetic engineering We are on the verge of literally predicting and preventing disease before it occurs.

But all of this does have a cost; it doesn’t just happen.

In the years since I earned my license technology has made dramatic improvements in the quality of life. MRIs and CAT scans; Endoscopy. Cardiac surgery angioplasty. Joint replacement.

These are not just terms these are miracles in the lives of people who benefit from them.

In my own practice, patients with angina in the 1960s were homebound, now with angioplasty or CAB, they’re restored to full, productive lives.

My patient with worn-out joints used to live out their days on crutches or in wheel chairs. Now joint replacement technology puts them out on the golf course or jetting around the world.

Asthma was an acute disease in 1900 and patients died in days or weeks. In the 1960s, I could control most of the symptoms. Today, new pharmaceuticals allow asthma patients to live normal, happy, productive lives.

You know full well what medicine has done for the quantity of life and you’ve seen improvements in the quality of life, as well. But did you ever consider how that translates into economic terms?

A few months ago, I had a conversation with a former Oregon senator Mark Hatfield. He told me of a study he had commissioned involving two economists at the University of Chicago School of Business. They were asked to evaluate what the impact of better health; what increased longevity a better quality of life have had on the economy.

Their estimate, based on very conservative assumptions as you would expect, shows that better healthcare adds more than 2 and a half trillion dollars to our Gross Domestic Product. Each and every year.

That means that 25 to 30 percent of last year’s G.D.P. can be directly related to better health long life more active lives.

You might wonder how this could be. Well, let’s look at the patients I just spoke about.

That angina patient is not homebound, he’s out on the golf course. He’s buying gasoline to get to the course, paying green fees, buying golf balls, losing golf balls. Then, he’s stopping at the 19th hole and going out to dinner with his friends.

Or the lady with arthritis who had joint replacement surgery. She and her friends regularly fly from Portland down to Reno. She pays for her air fare. She rents her hotel room. I won’t say that she gambles or drinks. But, she certainly does eat.

Or the asthma patient no longer homebound is back at work shopping and traveling and leading a full, complete life.

All of them earning money. Spending money. Fueling the economy.

The conclusion is inescapable. Yes healthcare costs. But those costs produce very significant benefits.

Yes technology will continue giving us more and better tools. To do more and better things for our patients.

And yes -- healthcare costs will continue to rise. Better health, increased longevity of life, better quality of life are an investment in the infrastructure of this country in its people.

However, after a year of representing you in Washington of participating in public sector and private sector advocacy on your behalf, I leave the presidency with a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of gratitude for the combined efforts of all of us in the Federation.

I leave with a new appreciation for our profession. Yes, we can be more efficient. Yes, we can improve the quality of medicine. Yes, we can create a safer, better health care system.

But our system has extended life expectancy has improved the quality of life and has contributed to the national economic well-being.

And will continue to do so in the years ahead.

So, let me end my term of office with a request.

I need your help.

The AMA needs your help.

Most of all your patients need your help.

We need to tell our story and take pride in a job well done.

The public, the policy-makers, the politicians, corporate America need to hear about and understand the benefits that a vigorous and viable health care system brings to this country.

And, yes, we need the AMA and its powerful voice in Washington, in the state capitals, throughout the length and breadth of this great nation.

America has rediscovered the American Medical Association.

And, I’m more excited today than when I first devoted my life to this profession nearly 50 years ago.

I’m excited by the challenges -- the growing awareness in America of medicine’s value throughout the fabric of society.

Most of all, I’m excited about the opportunity to help people.

We are adding a noble, hard-won, admirable page to the history of the American Medical Association.

And I am proud to have been part of it.


Last updated: Jun 11, 2000

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