ATF on right track in fighting proliferation of “ghost guns”

The AMA is supporting a regulatory move to ensure that federal firearms control laws apply to so-called ghost guns.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has proposed updating the definitions of “firearm” and related parts for the first time since 1968 to modernize the definition of “frame or receiver.” That would help close a regulatory loophole associated with the unserialized, privately made firearms that are increasingly being recovered at crime scenes across the country.

“These unmarked firearms, known as ‘ghost guns,’ are often assembled from kits that are sold without background checks, making them easily acquired by criminals who otherwise would not be permitted to possess a firearm,” AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who oversees the ATF, a Department of Justice agency. “The AMA supports this important proposed rule and urges that it be finalized without delay.”

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Texas SB 8 puts bounties on doctors’ heads for delivering care

A new Texas law bans virtually all abortions in the state after about six weeks’ gestation and invites private parties to file civil lawsuits against anyone performing or “aiding and abetting” an abortion.

A successful civil lawsuit under the Texas legislation, Senate Bill 8, would allow plaintiffs to collect a minimum of $10,00 for each abortion challenged. The U.S. Supreme Court has denied an emergency application to block the law from taking effect.

The AMA “is deeply disturbed by Texas SB 8 and disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s “allowing this egregious law to go into effect,” said Gerald E. Harmon, MD, a South Carolina family physician and president of the AMA.

“This significant overreach not only bans virtually all abortions in the state, but it interferes in the patient-physician relationship and places bounties on physicians and health care workers simply for delivering care,” he added. “Opening the door to third-party litigation against physicians severely compromises patient access to safe clinical care.”

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AMA: Time to mandate COVID-19 vaccination is now

With the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine earning full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant wreaking havoc amid sluggish national rates of immunization, the AMA is strongly urging employers to require that their workers get vaccinated.

“Now is the time for the public and private sectors to come together, listen to the science, and mandate vaccination,” said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD.

“The FDA has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the meticulously collected evidence from more than 100 million vaccinated Americans is clear: The vaccines we have to defeat COVID-19 are safe, effective, and the only way out of this pandemic,” Dr. Harmon added, noting that “vaccine supply is ample, and for months, access has been easier.”

Nearly all U.S. doctors—over 96%—are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to an AMA survey conducted in May.

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D.C. law letting teens choose COVID-19 vaccination should stand

The AMA has joined several other organizations representing physicians and adolescent-health professionals to file an amicus brief in support of the District of Columbia’s Minor Consent Act.

That public health law protecting minors’ access to medical care such as COVID-19 vaccination and other routine immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, such as those for tetanus and pertussis. The groups’ brief was filed in one of two separate lawsuits that were brought in federal court last month challenging the law and urges the court to dismiss the challenge.

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Why the CDC is again turning to masks to help stop COVID-19

The expert physicians and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending that Americans—even those who are fully immunized with one of the three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines available in this country—wear masks in indoor public spaces if they live in areas with high or substantial rates of virus transmission.

The masks serve as another layer of protection against transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant that now accounts for 80% of cases in the U.S. The CDC also is recommending that children, teachers and staffers in K–12 schools across the nation wear masks in the coming school year, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. This brings the agency’s recommendations in line with those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The AMA strongly supports the scientifically driven changes.

“With cases of COVID-19 continuing to increase in the United States and a significant number of people who remain unvaccinated, the CDC’s updated mask guidance is needed to help curb the spread of COVID-19—particularly the Delta variant, which we know is much more contagious,” said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD, in a statement. “Wearing a mask is a small, but important protective measure that can help us all stay safer.”

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Families of men in notorious syphilis study speak up for vaccination

Less than two-thirds of Black adults say they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to do so ASAP, and the painful legacy of the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee and other instances of medical racism is often considered to be one reason for uncertainty in Black communities.

A short-form documentary featuring the descendants of the men involved in the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee sets the record straight on what happened, what has changed and what current generations can learn from the experience to build confidence in public health within Black communities, especially as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccines.

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Highlights from the June 2021 AMA Special Meeting

Catch up with the news and other key moments from the AMA House of Delegates’ virtual meeting. The June 2021 AMA Special Meeting ran June 11–16.

For a briefer rundown, check out this list of our top 10 stories from the Special Meeting.

I also filed these stories from the meeting:

U.S. health spending grew at 4.6% pace before pandemic hit

A detailed recent report from the AMA provides a revealing window into U.S. health care spending trends before the pandemic’s onset and offers a preliminary glimpse at COVID-19’s impact throughout 2020.

Drawing on data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the AMA Policy Research Perspective, “National Health Expenditures, 2019: Steady Spending Growth Despite Increases in Personal Health Care Expenditures in Advance of the Pandemic,” shows that health spending in 2019 accounted for 17.7% of U.S. gross domestic product. Health care spending increased by 4.6% in 2019 to $3.8 trillion—$11,582 for each person.

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Time for doctors to take center stage in COVID-19 vaccine push

Each morning earlier this year, Atlanta general internist Sandra A. Fryhofer, MD, would rise at 6 a.m. to cruise all the COVID-19 vaccine-appointment websites for openings for her senior patients at mass-vaccination sites, pharmacies, grocery stores, warehouse stores—seemingly everywhere but in her own practice.

Dr. Fryhofer’s internal medicine practice spent several hours of staff time daily on “emails, texts, calls, even scheduling vaccine appointments for patients who are not internet savvy,” she said. “It was a nightmare, but we did it because we knew how important it was for our patients to receive this lifesaving vaccine.”

By the time the state health department finally came calling with an allotment of COVID-19 vaccines for Dr. Fryhofer’s practice, she had already helped secure vaccinations for all but of a handful of her eligible patients. The Georgia Department of Health was able to connect her with a physician practice in an underserved area in need of the doses and that could make better use of the precious commodity.

As trying as those early months when Americans’ demand for vaccines far outstripped the supply were for patients and doctors, AMA members across the country say now is arguably when doctors’ most difficult work will begin.

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Biden administration bars LGBTQ+ discrimination in health care

The Department of Health and Human Services has effectively overturned a Trump-era rule by announcing that it will interpret and enforce essential Affordable Care Act protections on the basis of sex to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“The Biden administration did the right thing by terminating a short-lived effort to allow discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation when seeking health care,” said AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD. “As we said in our letter to the previous administration, the interpretation was contrary to the intent and the plain language of the law. It’s unfortunate that such an obvious step had to be taken; the AMA welcomes this commonsense understanding of the law.”

“This move is a victory for health equity and ends a dismal chapter in which a federal agency sought to remove civil rights protections,” Dr. Bailey said.

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New CDC tools aim to ease COVID-19 vaccine hunt

With the pace of COVID-19 vaccination slowing and supply outpacing demand in many areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched new web and texting tools to make it easier for patients to find vaccine appointments and get answers to questions they may have about SARS-CoV-2 vaccination.

The CDC’s new website, Vaccines.gov, allows users to find nearby vaccination sites and answers frequent questions about COVID-19 vaccine safety, cost, side effects and more. The website also details how sites offering vaccinations can apply to have their information listed on the website’s vaccine finder tool. The website also is available in Spanish at Vacunas.gov.

Users can text their ZIP code to GETVAX to get an automatically generated response listing three potential vaccination sites. There is a Spanish text-messaging option as well—VACUNA.

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CDC urges states to get more COVID-19 vaccine in doctors’ offices

The Biden administration is encouraging that states supply more vaccines to primary care physicians’ offices in a bid to address immunization inequities and better reach patients who are hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s a move that comes as physicians are being urged to contact their patients by whatever means available and strongly recommend SARS-CoV-2 immunization.

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Why anti-transgender bills are a dangerous intrusion on medicine

The AMA is sending a strong message to America’s governors to stop interfering in the medical care of transgender minors.

Legislation pending in several states aims to prohibit medically necessary gender transition-related care for minor patients. AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote to Bill McBride, executive director of the National Governors Association warning that these measures would “insert the government into clinical decision-making and force physicians to disregard clinical guidelines.” Such legislation was enacted in Arkansas last month after legislators overrode a veto by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

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