Sunday, December 3,
Ted Lewers, MD
American Medical Association
Thank you, and good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I’ve been asked to talk about the increasing impact
specialty societies have had on the AMA.
It’s more appropriate, however, to speak in terms of the
collective impact we’ve had together on behalf of our
colleagues and our patients.
This year, as you know, there are double the amount of
specialty society delegates to the AMA House.
Your increased presence means better representation for the
entire physician population, members and non-members alike.
The issues we introduce, debate and resolve together help
shape the course of medicine for all of us.
We’re not always going to agree on every issue.
It’s important we have a healthy debate.
It’s important we know where we all stand.
Because when we do act together, it is no surprise we act
And this year, our collective actions were very strong.
We succeeded this year by working together to reduce the
regulatory burdens HCFA places on physicians.
We succeeded this year in blocking misguided attempts to
open the National Practitioner Data Bank.
And we succeeded this year in building strong bipartisan
support in both houses of Congress for a real patients’ bill
Last year, the House of Representatives voted
overwhelmingly to pass the Norwood-Dingell patients’ bill of
rights. The nation’s media hailed the passage as a milestone,
but we knew the insurance industry would fight back.
After all, this is an industry that has executives pulling
down as much as $10 million a year.
An industry that has spent more than $100 million to fight
But we were ready.
When the HMO big guns tried to water down the
Norwood-Dingell bill, we responded swiftly – using our
grassroots physician network rather than million dollar
Our physician network worked the phones, sent letters and
We did what was necessary to ensure that patients and
physicians weren’t forced to accept a weak bill that only
helped maintain the status quo.
You raised your voices and you were heard.
And your AMA was right there with you, supporting the
patient protections favored by almost 90 percent of America,
The right for a patient to sue his or her health plan when
the plan’s decisions result in harm to the patient.
The right for all Americans to receive health insurance
The right for a physician to decide what is medically
And the right for an appeals process that is independent,
external and binding.
I want to thank you and your peers for the efforts we’ve
made to get this far.
Along the way, there were difficult moments trying to keep
Along the way, we sometimes disagreed.
But when it mattered most, we came together and supported a
bill that would give patients the rights they deserved.
When it mattered most, we put aside our differences and
stood outside the halls of Congress asking our elected
officials to support our actions.
And support our patients.
But as you know, despite having a majority of supporters in
both houses of Congress, the Republican leadership did not let
the Norwood-Dingell bill come to the floor for a vote.
We need to stay vigilant.
We need to continue to reach out to our colleagues and our
elected leaders and tell them enough is enough.
Patients’ rights is not a Democratic or Republican issue,
but the stalemate in the 106th Congress was unacceptable.
I think you’ll agree it’s high time the Republican
leadership steps forward and shows the courage necessary to
ensure patients – and we’re all patients – receive the rights
That’s why in the 107th Congress, we’ll continue our call
for a patients’ bill of rights that reaches out to all
And we’ll continue to advocate for patients to have the
right to hold their HMO accountable if the HMO denies
necessary medical care.
When the 107th Congress convenes next month, we’ll be there
together fighting for our patients.
This morning I also want to take a few minutes to talk
about physicians’ rights.
I’m very pleased to report several examples where your AMA
helped our profession.
We succeeded once again in securing an increase in the
Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate.
Effective January 1st, you’ll see a 4.5 percent increase in
Medicare physician payments for 2001. This follows a 5.4
percent increase for this year.
I know that many specialties feel the refinements to the
Balanced Budget Act could have gone further.
We’re working in that direction.
But I want to emphasize, however, that the increase we did
win is critical for the Medicare program.
We’re not going to solve the problem overnight.
But the steps we’re taking are steps in the right direction
to fix a system that desperately needs fixing.
For years, we have provided needed care to America's
elderly despite Medicare's insufficient reimbursements.
This increase will begin to provide long overdue relief.
Our argument to HCFA was simple.
In 1999, we advocated strongly for provisions in the
Balanced Budget Refinement Act of 1999.
That directed HCFA to correct the ways in which it
estimated the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) – a target which
had not based on actual data.
We backed provisions in the BBRA that required HCFA to
correct its estimates when actual data became available.
If the AMA and the physician community had not successfully
argued for the actual data, physicians would not have seen
this year's SGR raise to its highest level since the SGR began
But that’s not all we accomplished with HCFA.
We convinced HCFA to eliminate its “black box” coding edits
and to install toll-free lines to answer your questions about
Medicare claims processing requirements.
And our CPT-5 project continues to streamline CPT and
prepare for an increasingly electronic world.
In fact, HCFA just a few months ago named CPT as a national
standard, which means the days of varied, confusing and
contradictory local coding systems will soon be left in the
Let me talk for a minute about another important effort we
are taking together.
This past year, we have worked together to encourage the
Institute of Medicine to support constructive learning and
shared experience in the development of a properly constructed
health system error reporting system.
We came together and developed a framework that emphasizes
the need to create a non-punitive reporting culture.
Information provided must be comprehensively analyzed.
Confidentiality for patients, physicians and other
providers must be maintained.
And we need to share patient safety information between
health care organizations and collaboration between health
care reporting systems.
Finally, we have to ensure clear legal protections are in
We want to enhance patient safety, not create a culture of
We came together because we believe health system errors
can be reduced.
Our collective experience and expertise enables us to
provide the best solutions.
Let me close by sharing with you what I’ve been especially
thankful for this year.
I’m thankful that we’ve worked together in so many ways to
pave the way for patients’ rights.
I’m thankful that we’ve worked together to win major
improvements in the ways HCFA treats physicians.
And I’m especially thankful that we’ll continue to work
Last year there were 100 specialty society delegates to the
This year there are 200.
I think you’ll agree that this increase not only signals
your increased impact.
But it signals an incredible opportunity to work together
We know our work is not yet finished.
And while we know that we may not agree 100 percent of the
time on 100 percent of the issues we face.
I do know that we’re moving in the right direction.
And I invite each of you to join me in the coming year on
behalf of America’s patients and physicians.