Top 10 stories from the November 2021 AMA Special Meeting

Nearly 700 physicians, residents and medical students gathered for the November 2021 AMA Special Meeting of the AMA House of Delegates to consider a wide array of proposals to help fulfill the AMA’s core mission of promoting medicine and improving public health. As they have done since the global pandemic was declared last year, the delegates met virtually.

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Why doctors back state COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care

Physicians are voicing their support for state efforts to require that doctors and other health professionals get vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones and their patients from the worst outcomes of COVID-19.

In particular, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently implemented such a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the health care industry in the Empire State. The AMA joined with the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) to strongly support the governor’s efforts.

“The path to ending the pandemic must be based on science, and vaccination is an indispensable part of the solution,” says a joint statement from AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD, and MSSNY President Joseph R. Sellers, MD.

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How latest surprise-billing rule entrenches health insurers’ power

The Biden administration has issued a second interim final rule (IFR) to implement the No Surprises Act that takes effect in January, but unfortunately it represents an undeserved gift to the insurance industry that will reduce health care options for patients.

The IFR “ignores congressional intent and flies in the face of the Biden administration’s stated concerns about consolidation in the health care marketplace,” said AMA President Gerald A. Harmon, MD. “It disregards the insurance industry’s role in creating the problem of surprise billing at the expense of independent physician practices whose ability to negotiate provider network contracts continues to erode.”

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44% drop in opioid Rx since 2011, but overdoses spike. Here’s why.

A report newly issued by the AMA shows that opioid prescribing nationwide has dropped 44.4% in the past decade and fell nearly 7% from 2019 to 2020. At the same time, the country is facing a worsening epidemic of drug-related overdoses and deaths.

Overdoses and deaths are spiking even as physicians and other clinicians have greatly increased the use of prescription drug-monitoring programs (PDMPs)—more than 910 million times in 2020, according to the AMA’s “2021 Overdose Epidemic Report” (PDF). That’s up 21% from the 750 million times that PDMPs were used in 2019 by doctors and others.

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Medicare should pay for telehealth list services after pandemic

The AMA has weighed in with more than 100 pages of comments on the proposed 2022 Medicare physician payment schedule. The comments come with doctors eager to see extended coverage of telehealth amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has cut practice revenues. That income drop comes ahead of the combined 9.75% reduction in Medicare physician pay that will start Jan. 1 unless Congress takes action.

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For doctors hit hard by COVID-19 stress, there are tools to help

The COVID-19 pandemic’s emotionally pulverizing impact on physicians and the health-professional workforce has exacerbated the mental health and burnout crisis within health care and demands action. …

Here is a collection of news articles that detail other steps the AMA is taking to prevent suicide among doctors and the resources that individuals and organizations can use to help save lives.

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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: