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Backlash mounts over AMA endorsement of Tom Price as HHS leader

The Clinician Action Network initiated letter "The AMA does not speak for us," online, which has raked in 2,100 signatures.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

As of Thursday afternoon, over 2,100 physicians had signed a letter opposing the American Medical Association's endorsement of Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

The backlash began Tuesday, after the AMA issued a statement strongly supporting President-elect Donald Trump's pick as a surgeon, state legislator and member of Congress.

The Clinician Action Network initiated the letter "The AMA does not speak for us," on medium.com. As of Thursday afternoon, it had 2,109 names in support.

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[Also: Gut check survey: What will Tom Price, Seema Verma mean for healthcare?]

Physicians also took to Twitter, with one saying "I am horrified," and others saying they would no longer be members of the AMA because their patients would lose coverage under policies supported by Price.

The Clinician Action Network said on its site, "We believe that in issuing this statement of support for Dr. Price, the AMA has reneged on a fundamental pledge that we as physicians have taken -- to protect and advance care for our patients. We support patient choice. But Dr. Price's proposed policies threaten to harm our most vulnerable patients and limit their access to healthcare. We cannot support the dismantling of Medicaid, which has helped 15 million Americans gain health coverage since 2014."

[Also: Columnists, media orgs probe concerns over Tom Price, Seema Verma at HHS]

In response, AMA Board Chair Patrice Harris said Thursday, "The AMA supports the nomination of Dr. Tom Price based on decades of interactions with him as a member of the AMA House of Delegates, Georgia state senator and as a member of the House of Representatives since 2005."

She said Price listens to concerns expressed by the AMA and other physician organizations and as an orthopaedic surgeon for nearly 20 years, is the first physician to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since President George H.W. Bush appointed Louis W. Sullivan, MD, in 1989.

[Also: Reactions pour in on Tom Price pick for HHS secretary]

"That physician background will provide important perspective within the president's cabinet," she said. "Too often, health policy makers and regulators give short shrift to the real-world impact their plans and decisions can have on how patient care is delivered."

Price has taken part as a speaker in AMA-organized policy events, such as a 2015 tele-town hall that prompted conversation on how to chart a better course on electronic health records, Harris said.

"Even so, our support for Dr. Price to lead HHS should not be taken as an endorsement of every policy position he has advocated," she said.

In the AMA's endorsement Tuesday, Harris said Price has been a leader in the development of health policies to advance patient choice and market-based solutions as well as reduce excessive regulatory burdens that diminish time devoted to patient care and increase costs.

The rift shows the deep divide over healthcare policy changes expected under the new Administration.

Price, who heads the House Budget Committee, has voiced his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and support of privatizing Medicare and turning Medicaid back to the states.

The AMA, which represents physicians, has an estimated 250,000 members, about a quarter of physicians in the country.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse