ONE OF THE MOST hotly contested issues in the last Congress was whether the Federal Trade Commission should be able to regulate doctors and other professionals. The issue arose when the FTC announced plans to look into charges that professionals fixed prices and engaged in deceptive advertising; the American Medical Association yelled bloody murder, and, helped by the fact that its political action committee contributed to most members of Congress in 1981-82, obtained a sympathetic hearing on Capitol Hill. The House voted narrowly to bar the FTC from regulating the professions, but the Senate, at the end of the lame-duck session last December, voted 59-37 to let the FTC go ahead.

Now the AMA seems to have capitulated. The AMA and the FTC have reached an agreement allowing FTC regulation of professionals' commercial practices, but reserving to the states regulation of quality of care and other professional matters. This is essentially what Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), the leader of the battle against the AMA in the Senate, proposed last year. It is a sensible idea.

The AMA says now that all it wanted last year was to keep the FTC out of health-related matters. But the fact is that it fought and fought hard against regulation, and reached a compromise only after it had been beaten. For the outcome great credit must go to Sen. Rudman and to FTC Chairman James C. Miller III, whose devotion to free- market economics is strong enough to encourage him to take on a strong lobby with many friends in this administration. The Reagan administration and many members of Congress, notably Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and James Broyhill (R- N.C.), deserve credit as well for actively backing Mr. Miller and the FTC.