AMA 2017: New president urges physicians to rise above ‘hyper-partisan political climate’

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 - David Barbe, MD, MHA
David Barbe, MD, MHA, president of American Medical Association for 2017-18

In his first address as president of the American Medical Association, David Barbe, MD, MHA, encouraged physicians at the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago to “put their expertise to work” in the debate over healthcare legislation and not be “corrupted or co-opted” by partisanship.

Barbe repeatedly asked the AMA crowd “What kind of leaders will we be?” For examples of what not to do, he pointed to Congress, where the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed entirely by one political party and may now be repealed only by its opponents, and as Barbe described it, factions have been saying “hell no” to working together.

“I submit to you: that might be good theater, but it is not good policy, it’s not good politics and it is definitely not good leadership,” he said. “Good leadership is constructive, consensus-building and principled. Yet, good leadership lays down few absolutes.”

One of those few absolutes, he added, is that no one who gained coverage thanks to the ACA should lose it. Achieving that goal, however, doesn’t mean the AMA should be inflexible, and he expressed an openness to alternative approaches and more cost-effective ways to cover the uninsured.

He said physicians should use their experience with “difficult conversations” to work with both Republicans and Democrats.

“Our role in today’s advocacy climate means de-escalating highly charged partisan rhetoric,” he said. “It means working with all stakeholders on issues that are simply too big to be left to the parochial interests of one party or the other. When it comes to health care advocacy, we are the leaders.”

Barbe’s speech was far from the only conversation at the AMA meeting about the ACA and its Republican-sponsored replacement, the American Health Care Act (AHCA). It was also the focus of the speech from his predecessor, Andrew Gurman, MD, and senior vice president for advocacy Richard Deem gave an update on the AMA’s efforts to change the House-passed version of the AHCA.