An attempt by medicine's right wing to convince the American Medical Association to withdraw support for any national health insurance program collapsed today.
By overwhelming voice vote, the AMA House of Delegates repeated their support for a bill that would expand private employer health plans while using federal funds to help cover the aged; the unemployed and the indigent.
A group of mainly Southern, Western and Midwestern delegates - with Louisiana doctors the most vocal - had urged the delegates to stop supporting even this form of federal involvement.
By submitting its own health insurance bill, said Louisiana Dr. Adolph Lewis, the AMA is "winning the right to be a spectator at its own demise."
"We oppose health insurance in any form," maintained Dr. James Harshman of Kokomo, Ind. "We don't want any part of it." Dr. F. M. Ball, representing the ultra-conservative Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, said the AMA is playing ping-pong socialism with the federal government."
The same debate was held at the AMA mid-year meeting in Philadelphia last December, and the anti-health-insurance forces were defeated by 181 to 57. At the outset of the group's annual meeting this week and last, AMA leaders had feared that the anti-health-insurance tide might be rising.
Instead it became clear as the days passed that it was receding. There was wide agreement among the delegates that unless the AMA sponsored some form of expanded health insurance, it would lose credibility and influence in Congress and the administration.
Today the Louisiana delegation did not even press for its anti-health-insurance resolution, merely for one to cancel the part of the AMA bill calling for a federal health insurance board to administer the program.
That effort too was defeated. But the AMA did accept a California doctor's resolution to stop talking about "national" health insurance in the future - since "national," it was argued, may imply socialism or federal dictatorship - and instead promote "comprehensive" health insurance for every American.
The AMA bill has been introduced in Congress by Sen. Clifford P. Hansen (R-Wyo.), Reps. Tim Lee Carter (R-Ky.) and John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.), and 41 Senate and House colleagues.
In other actions today, the AMA delegates:
Told their leaders to study ways to modify the Kefauver-Harris amendments to federal drug law - the amendments that required drugs to be both safe and effective - to speed up introduction of new drugs and Food and Drug Administration approval of new uses for old ones.
[Among valuable drugs available in Europe but not the United States, according to an AMA official, are several agents to treat high blood pressure and heart disorders and a drug called valproate to control many epileptic seizures.]
Opposed health insurance plans that require, rather than permit, a second opinion by another surgeon before the plan will pay for any surgery.
Said Congress should class hospitals interns and residents as employees - a measure interns and residents' groups favor but hospitals oppose - so these young doctors can bargain collectively under the National Labor Relations Act.