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AMA break could be coming

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Posted: Friday, September 18, 1998 1:00 am

CHICAGO (AP) -- The Illinois State Medical Society will vote Saturday on ending its alliance with the American Medical Association, a move that could mean a significant loss of members and money for the AMA.

Dr. Randall Mullin, a family practice physician from Geneseo who headed the state society's special committee, said testimony before his committee included a significant amount of dissatisfaction with the AMA's performance.

There also is concern because physicians who join a county or state medical society also must belong to the AMA, Mullin said. That has caused concern about high dues and freedom of choice, he said.

The society has mulled ``deunification'' for about 10 years.

``The leadership of the medical society felt that it was something that needed to be decided one way or another and put to rest,'' Mullin said.

The society has more than 17,000 members. Unification gives doctors a discount on AMA dues and the state an extra vote in the AMA's House of Delegates.

Mullin said if the state group quits the AMA, it still will encourage its members to join as individuals. But a society survey of its members found just 49 percent would continue AMA membership.

If the society votes to quit the AMA, it could mean a loss of more than 8,000 doctors and $2 million in dues to the 294,000-member AMA.

Dr. Randolph Smoak, chairman of the AMA's board of trustees, said Wednesday the 50-year partnership is worth preserving.

``We have been through some turmoil in the last year and a half at the AMA. There's no question about that,'' Smoak said. ``But we have made a very conscious attempt to correct any deficiencies. We believe we will rectify all of those (problems) that may be issues for physicians.''

The AMA suffered severe criticism from nonmembers and members alike over an endorsement deal with small-appliance maker Sunbeam Corp. The AMA paid Sunbeam nearly $10 million after backing out of the deal, and several high-ranking executives were fired or quit.

The AMA's reputation suffered, particularly after it was revealed it had been seeking similar arrangements with other large corporations.

Smoak said there is now new leadership, including chief executive Dr. E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr.

``If we can improve and show value to the AMA membership, we believe we will turn around some of those dissidents,'' he said.

Smoak said he is confident even if the vote goes against the AMA, many physicians will remain loyal to the organization.

A two-thirds vote of the state society's 311-member House of Delegates is needed to pass a bylaws change severing AMA links.

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