The AMA Is on the Wrong Side of History on Medicare for All

What does the American Medical Association (AMA) have in common with Sen. Mitch McConnell?

Both refuse to support Medicare for All, the single-payer universal health care program proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal. On June 11, the AMA underscored that opposition, taking a formal vote at their annual conference in Chicago.

A recent poll reveals that 70 percent of Americans favor Medicare for All, yet the AMA’s position suggests that a majority of doctors do not. In fact, 56 percent of doctors expressed support for single-payer health care in a separate poll.

In response to the AMA, medical students and younger physicians are joining organizations like Physicians for a National Health Program, a leading organization in the single-payer movement for decades. The organization’s student affiliate, Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP), decided to confront the AMA directly at this year’s annual meeting.

The AMA has a long record of being on the wrong side of history. They refused to admit Black physicians up until the civil rights era, effectively blocking their ability to get residency appointments and ensuring the maintenance of Jim Crow segregation in health care. They also voiced strong opposition before the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, calling those programs “socialized medicine.”

Continuing that history today, the AMA helped co-found the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a benevolently-named entity which is actually a corporate lobbying group set up to kill Medicare for All. The Partnership’s other members include insurers Blue Cross Blue Shield and drug industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Studies have already demonstrated that Medicare for All would save $2 trillion over 10 years. Moreover, patients would have greater choice, access and quality of care. Under our current health care system, about 30 million Americans lack any health coverage at all.

To amplify the voices of patients, SNaHP’s medical students joined activists from the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, People’s Action, and others in a protest “die-in” that disrupted the AMA’s conference in Chicago on June 8.

As the meeting started, doctors, medical students, seniors and people with disabilities filed into the room and assembled on the floor, face up like corpses. Gripping cardboard tombstones, they took turns sharing heartbreaking stories about navigating the health care system.

At the same time, a rally outside the hotel attracted 500 activists demanding that the AMA and the Partnership drop their opposition to Medicare for All.

The Chicago die-in was inspired by a similar protest I participated in with People’s Action members outside Senator McConnell’s D.C. office in April. I was among those who ended up getting arrested by Capitol police after demanding hearings in the Senate on Medicare for All.

I joined this fight because I was without health care coverage, and ended up working at the federally funded clinic where I was provided care during that time. We served almost exclusively low-income women of color who relied on sliding scale and subsidized services. More recently, while working as an independent contractor, I paid almost $5,000 a year just for insurance.

I share my story to encourage others to do the same at protests bubbling up across the country. These personal narratives fuel the growth of the grassroots movement for Medicare for All.

While protest tactics may differ, the message is the same: 30 million Americans without insurance and 41 million underinsured is a crisis that can no longer be ignored. We cannot let patients fall through the cracks of a for-profit health care system when we have a solution.

The AMA must drop its opposition and stop funding the corporations and lobbyists that put greed over patient need. We need its leadership and members to truly live up to the AMA motto to “[promote] the betterment of public health” by supporting a single-payer system.