News and Commentary

As AMA Picks Its '99 President, '98 Leader Picks Up Benefits Whip

The AMA capped a less-than-harmonious convention by selecting its board chairman, Thomas R. Reardon, M.D., as its 1999 president. Reardon turned away a challenge from former Chairman Raymond Scalettar, M.D., in the AMA's first contested presidential election in five years.

Reardon and other AMA leaders were pounded at last month's meeting in Chicago, where member after member used floor time to criticize the association's handling of the Sunbeam endorsement debacle. To put a twist on the old Watergate-era refrain, some wanted to know what Reardon knew and when he knew it. Others demanded an accounting of expenses in settling a $20 million breach-of-contract suit that Sunbeam filed after the AMA jettisoned the deal.

Meanwhile, the AMA's 1998 president, Nancy Dickey, M.D., accepted her coronation with health care financing in her crosshairs. Dickey, whose cause célèbre for her year in office is insurance issues, said she would like to see people given the option to shop for health benefits that suit their own needs, rather than be limited by the choices their employers offer.

Dickey proposed that employers designate an amount of money for workers to spend on health care, mixing and matching benefits any way they want. If an employee wants a richer benefit mix than what an employer is willing to fund, it would be up to the worker to pay extra. Employers would no longer contract with individual plans, but would allow employees to sign with any plan in the market. (A similar idea, though, is treading water in Washington.)

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