No-one likes missing out on a party, particularly when it’s the biggest party in town. But only the AMA can turn its failure to score an invite to the 2020 Summit into a national news story.

No doubt the other 7000 hopefuls who got knocked back by the Summit Steering Committee are just as disappointed as AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua. However, it was her piqued response at missing out on a place that generated media headlines. This alone should support the Steering Committee’s decision to leave her name off the Summit guest list.

The AMA is the highest profile lobby group in the country. If the Government wants to know the AMA’s position on any health issue, it need only open the morning paper or switch on the evening news. With such a high media profile, the AMA hardly needs an additional platform to air its views. The Summit will gain more from inviting someone who does not already have such unfettered access to the media to get issues on the national agenda.

Despite the AMA’s claims of political and bureaucratic conspiracies, no-one could accuse the Rudd Government of being anti-doctor. The new Hospitals and Healthcare Reform Commission is stacked with medicos and there will be a raft of doctors attending the Summit, including two ex-presidents of the AMA, (immediate past President Mukesh Haikerwal and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson). The exclusion of the AMA from this event does not mean that the medical profession will be unrepresented. In fact, given that the Summit’s aims are to identify and explore new policy ideas, it is not surprising that the AMA was not considered a suitable attendee.

The AMA’s track record on health policy reform is pretty bleak. In the past it has opposed most major changes to our health system, including the introduction of both the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Medicare. In 1944 the Chiefly Government was forced to overcome opposition by the AMA (then the Australian branch of the British Medical Association) to introduce the PBS, a program that has resulted in the price of medicines in Australia being among the lowest in the developed world. The AMA also mounted campaigns against the introduction of Medibank in 1974 and Medicare in 1983.

As recently as last week, the AMA isolated itself from almost all other health provider and consumer groups by not supporting COAG’s decision to establish a national registration scheme for medical and health practitioners, despite the views of most experts that this would increase the quality and safety of health care.

In fact, given the consistency of the AMA’s record, the Government should embrace its opposition to any proposed new health policy as a virtual guarantee that the policy will be successful, popular and well-regarded internationally.

It’s true that the AMA advocates for some important health issues, such as improving Indigenous health. But it does so while simultaneously opposing policies that would increase access to health care for Indigenous communities, such as provider number restrictions, bonded medical school places and an expanded role for nurse practitioners.

Of course the AMA has a role to play in the health care debate. It does an excellent job in advocating for the interests of its members and in using the media to promote their concerns. However, it is not, and has never been, an organisation focussed on improving the experience of health care for consumers.

It may ruffle a few feathers at the AMA National Office, but the exclusion of the AMA President from the 2020 Summit provides the best evidence yet that the Government is genuinely seeking fresh new policy ideas from a broad spectrum of interests, rather than just the usual tired old ideas from self-interested and partisan lobby groups.

DEBATE this issue and others at the CROAKEY health blog.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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