As AMA Embraced Health Reform, Membership Fell 3.5% in 2009

In 2009, as many physicians criticized the AMA for its continuing support of the Democrats' health reform bill, membership dropped by 3.5 percent, according to reports on the AMA website.

It is not known how much this decline was caused by members resigning over the AMA's controversial health reform stance or due to other factors like the economy, but some members have been distancing themselves from the AMA on health reform.

In Oct. 2009, for example, members of the Mississippi Medical Society voted 209-31 to end a "unification" agreement with the AMA, requiring membership in both organizations. The vote "reflects the strong feelings of the doctors in this state about healthcare reform," wrote James R. House III, MD, an otolaryngologist from Jackson, Miss., in an online forum. However, AMA membership in Mississippi by the end of the year had fallen 1.4 percent, which was far less than the national decline.

In a few other states, though, AMA participation took a nosedive, falling 14 percent in South Carolina, 13 percent in Florida and 7 percent in North Carolina in 2009. These figures come from a Feb. 2010 memo on the AMA website titled, "2010 State Delegate Allocation," which lists exact membership numbers by state from the end of 2008 to the end of 2009, in order to fairly allocate delegates to the AMA House.

The memo shows the AMA lost a total of 8,009 members in 2009, putting membership at 228,150 on Dec. 31, 2009. That total would represent 23 percent of the nation's 954,000 physicians, but many AMA members are students or retired physicians, paying a discounted membership fee. The actual percentage of active physicians who are AMA members is unknown.  

Other states with higher than average membership losses were New Jersey (down 6.4 percent), Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania (each down 5.4 percent), California (down 4.5 percent) and New York (4.1 percent). Membership actually improved in a few states, rising 10 percent in South Dakota, 1.5 percent in Wyoming and 1.4 percent in Michigan.

The AMA lost $1.7 million in membership dues revenue in 2009, down 3.9 percent from the year before, according to the AMA's 2009 annual report recently posted on its website. The report said three states opted out of the AMA's federation membership marketing agreement in 2009, but it did not identify the states or explain why.

Total revenues were down 4.8 percent, but the annual report showed a 2009 operating profit of $16.5 million, more than six times higher than in 2008. The higher profit was due to austerity measures, such as spending $14.6 less on marketing and promotion, $3.7 million less on meetings and travel, and $1.9 million less on employees than in 2008.

Read The AMA memo on 2010 State Delegate Allocation (pdf).

Read the AMA 2009 Annual Report.

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