The Tragic State Of American Advocacy Groups

Austin Hill
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Posted: Jun 24, 2012 12:01 AM
The Tragic State Of American Advocacy Groups

Hey AARP, and AMA – where did you lose your souls? And where does the iron fist of President Obama end – and where does your influence begin?

Throughout our nation’s history, private advocacy groups have given a voice to the “voiceless,” and have changed the way our government has treated people who otherwise had been trampled-upon or ignored. But today, two of the more prominent groups of these sorts have become indistinguishable from President Obama’s agenda for “change.”

And these two groups may also be learning a very painful and costly lesson: when you get too close to “the man,” eventually “the man” can own you.

Let’s start with the American Medical Association. Any individual who can earn the title “M.D.” is worthy of significant respect, and one would hope that an entire association of M.D.’s would be equally as worthy – but the A.M.A. has seemingly got itself caught in the crossfire of the “Obamacare” war.

The association’s stated mission is to promote the art and science of medicine for the betterment of the public health; to advance the interests of physicians and their patients; to promote public health; to lobby for legislation favorable to physicians and patients; and to raise money for medical education. It is also noteworthy that the group originally opposed Medicare, fearing undue government intrusion in the medical profession.

But soon after Medicare’s beginnings, the A.M.A. changed their position – presumably they realized that government-funded health care through Medicare produced more guaranteed, government-funded wages for MD’s. Thus for all of my lifetime, the A.M.A. has aggressively opposed any cuts at all in Medicare funding.

Over the years the A.M.A. has also supported tight government limits on medical school entries – likely for the purpose of limiting the “supply” of M.D.,’s, and thereby enhancing the wages of M.D.’s. On this point the late Economist Milton Freidman once noted that the A.M.A. had become a “guild,’ and was shielding its present-day members from the potential competition of future would-be Doctors.

By mid-2009 the A.M.A. reverted back to being skeptical of government power again, and publicly opposed President Obama’s healthcare “reforms”. The Obama Administration countered the A.M.A.’s opposition with a pro-Obama political group called “Doctors For America.”

Compared to the nearly 1 million M.D.’s practicing in the United States, D.F.A.’s approximate membership of 10,000 is tiny. Yet the pro Obama MD group made a huge p.r. impact, complete with photo-ops of “Doctors” dressed in white lab coats and stethoscopes standing beside the President at his podium. The D.F.A. was also able to get the A.M.A. to hedge a bit back in 2010, and agree to Obama’s reforms “in principle.”

Then just two weeks ago, A.M.A. President Dr. Peter Carmel announced at the Association’s annual convention their renewed opposition to Obamacare. He declared what many of us have been concerned about for quite some time; that the law does not address the dwindling of Medicare reimbursements to M.D.’s, nor does it address the ever-escalating threat of medical malpractice lawsuits, a major source of healthcare cost increases.

Lesson for the A.M.A.: government meddling in your profession ultimately hurts, even if it seems to “help” in the short run (or as President Ronald Reagan once said, “..Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem…”).

And then there’s the A.A.R.P., formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. They describe themselves as a non-profit, non-partisan membership organization dedicated to “enhancing the quality of life for all as we age,” and their support of expensive and expansive government programs is well known.

A.A.R.P. has consistently supported the expanded funding of Medicare. They passionately supported President George W Bush’s Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit effort. Yet in 2005 they viscerally opposed President Bush’s attempt to reform the bankrupt Social Security program, when he proposed that younger American workers be able to invest less than 1% of their Social Security withholdings in private accounts.

These two very different responses to the same President (Bush), all within the calendar year 2005, seemingly affirmed A.A.R.P.’s simple-minded governing philosophy: more government entitlement spending is always good, and less government entitlement spending is always bad.

So it was no surprise that after President Obama’s inauguration, the A.A.R.P. was ready to support anything he had in mind. But while the “leaders” of A.A.R.P. were busy enjoying their “seat at the table” with the President and quickly gave Obamacare their blessing, they failed to see the growing outrage among their rank-and-file.

A.A.R.P. members correctly realized that Obamacare does, indeed, drive a government wedge between Doctors and patients, and it shifts big chunks of federal funds away from Medicare (a lifeline to Seniors) and in to healthcare programs designed for younger voters. This tension culminated in the A.A.R.P. leadership walking out of a meeting at their own annual convention in Dallas back in 2009, unable to answer their members’ questions or to defend their own positions with the President.

Today the A.A.R.P. faces a reduced membership roster, amid competition from the newly formed and more private sector-oriented American Seniors Association. And the reduction in their credibility is likely incalculable, but nonetheless real.

American advocacy groups are essential, and can fulfill an important purpose. But when the “leaders” of such groups get seduced by charming politicians, everyone loses.