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Professional News
AMA Wants Govt. to Enact Law on Insurance Coverage
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 13 page 5-38

The AMA, in a significant reversal of longstanding policy, approved a call for mandated health insurance.

Under the AMA plan, individuals and families earning more than 500 percent of the federal poverty level ($49,000 for an individual and $100,000 for a family of four) would be required to obtain minimum insurance coverage of catastrophic health care and evidence-based preventive health care," using the tax structure to achieve compliance."

In a press conference following the action by the AMA's House of Delegates last month, AMA Trustee Ardis Hoven, M.D., told reporters that use of the tax structure meant those who neglected to buy health coverage would be subject to higher taxes.

For those earning less than 500 percent of the federal poverty level, the AMA would support a similar requirement upon implementation of a system of refundable tax credits or other subsidies to obtain health care coverage.

Though an entirely theoretical approach that has little likelihood of becoming reality anytime soon, the move marks a significant turnabout for a group that has consistently resisted mandatory health insurance in favor of voluntary incentives.

Hoven and fellow board member Edward Langston, R.Ph., M.D., emphasized the value of patient "accountability," the need for individuals to bear responsibility for their own coverage.

When asked if the new policy was a move toward government-provided health insurance, or a "single-payer" plan, Hoven replied, "This enables and encourages individuals to have their own individually owned health plan. That's not a single-payer plan."

Still, the resolution on mandatory insurance was among the most important policy measures undertaken by the House of Delegates.

"This policy is the newest addition to the AMA's plan to cover the uninsured," Hoven said. "The AMA plan now includes tax credits for the purchase of insurance, individually selected and owned health insurance, the expansion and formation of new insurance options, changes in health insurance market regulations, and individual responsibility."

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In another area relevant to all of medicine, the house approved a report calling for a temporary moratorium on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of newly approved drugs and the development of guidelines for pharmaceutical companies to follow when preparing such advertising. The time interval for this moratorium will be determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to a report prepared by the AMA Board of Trustees.

The new AMA guidelines for DTCA state that those ads should do the following:

"The AMA report clearly supports the need for closer monitoring of direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical products," said David Fassler, M.D., the delegate to the AMA house from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and author of a resolution originally calling for the report (Psychiatric News, July 15, 2005).

"In particular, I agree with the call for a moratorium on such advertising for a period of time after a new medication is initially approved," Fassler said. "Large-scale use by a wide range of patients is very different from carefully controlled clinical trials. Physicians need time to gain firsthand experience with new medications. In the long run, I believe the AMA's actions will improve safety without limiting access to necessary and appropriate treatment."

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In other business relevant to psychiatry, the house approved a resolution seeking a report by the AMA's Council on Science and Public Health (CSPH) to clarify uncertainties surrounding the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy.

Testifying in favor of the resolution, APA vice President Nada Stotland, M.D., put a "human face" on the clinical controversy.

"My subspecialty is the psychiatric aspects of women's reproductive health," she said. "I see women patients who are pregnant and clinically depressed. I can tell them that untreated depression poses a danger to them and to their pregnancies. I can tell those whose depression has been successfully controlled with medication that there is a 60 percent chance that their depressions will recur if they discontinue that medication. They tell me that they are reading in the popular press that antidepressants can hurt their growing fetuses. The prospect of doing anything that might harm their babies is agonizing.

"I also receive many calls from colleagues caring for pregnant women, raising these same concerns," she continued. "Patients look to their physicians for expert advice, and their physicians look to our AMA for the evidence-based guidelines on which they can base that advice. This resolution will put AMA guidelines into the hands of our colleagues so that they can offer their patients and their families the best possible information on which to make these difficult decisions."

The house also approved a report by the CSPH advocating for increased availability of mental health services for college students. The report calls on AMA to do the following:

Three other items sponsored by APA and affiliated organizations were also approved by the house:

More information about the 2006 annual meeting of the AMA House of Delegates is posted at<www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/15931.html>.

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