Incoming American Medical Association President Talks Health Policy In Jacksonville

May 23, 2017
Originally published on May 22, 2017 6:38 pm

The University of North Florida is gearing up to host more than 200 medical professionals for the inaugural Future of Health Care conference.

The incoming president of the nation’s largest doctors’ group will kick off the event with a keynote address Monday.


It’s an informal tradition for incoming American Medical Association presidents to give one of their first speeches in the River City and Dr. David Barbe is continuing that custom. He said the annual invitation from the Duval Medical Society is an important conduit from national to local politics of medicine.

“Much of what happens in any community in this country, Jacksonville included, is a combination of what goes on at the state level and what goes on at the national level,” he said. “Quite honestly the local piece is extremely important as well.”

When he’s officially sworn in as the group’s president in June, he’ll work toward advancing the organization’s health care policy positions while trying to bring together the AMA’s disparate factions.

Though still the most powerful doctors’ lobby in the country, the association has suffered recent schisms over health care reform. They include a drop in membership after the AMA voted to endorse the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and, recently, a stinging rebuke by other members for its endorsement of President Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Price is a former AMA member.

“I am very pleased to say that although there are some disagreements at times within the House of (Delegates) about how to best accomplish some of these objectives, there is near unanimity that we need to increase coverage in this country,” he said.

The AMA’s governing structure is similar to the federal government, with a president, a board of directors and voting members of the association acting as Congress. That Congress, called the House of Delegates, is made up of AMA members across the country. Delegates also recently voted to oppose the Republican health care bill called the American Health Care Act, which rolls back former President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.  

The AHCA, which passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, would limit insurance subsidies, allow states more leeway in deciding which conditions must be covered under insurance plans and allow insurers to charge older Americans five times more than younger people, according to a Politifact analysis.

“The current Medicaid system is woefully underfunded and when we hear about the administration or Congress proposing cuts to Medicaid in the AHCA ... it completely guts the safety net program across this country — not just in Florida, but in every other state as well,” he said of the proposal to cut more than $800 billion over 10 years to the Medicaid program.

Barbe said the AMA believes in increasing access to health care through increased insurance coverage, but that a state-sponsored single payer system is a bridge too far.

“The AMA is very interested in expanding coverage and I’ve talked about affordability.  A third dimension of that is choice — choice for patients and quite honestly a choice for physicians,” he said. “A single payer does not allow for that sort of choice. It begins to describe a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

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