AUA Residents & Fellows Committee News Health Policy Updates: Highlights from the American Medical Association Interim 2020 Meeting

By: Ruchika Talwar, MD | Posted on: 01 Feb 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about unparalleled disruption to daily life throughout the global community and unprecedented strain on our national health care system. During the initial pandemic peak in Spring 2020, as ICU capacity soared and personal protective equipment (PPE) reserves dwindled, one issue became exceedingly clear: in the face of a health care crisis, the complicated yet critical link between medicine and policy cannot be understated. This year, the American Medical Association (AMA) conducted their Interim 2020 meeting via a virtual format, where delegates gathered to discuss and adopt several key policy stances.

Obviously, COVID-19 related issues remained at the forefront of policy agenda. These included resolutions to encourage more affordable insurance options such as auto-enrollment and public options that foster a competitive market for the many Americans who lost employer-linked coverage due to economic ramifications of the pandemic. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus in correctional facilities, delegates adopted policies to protect the incarcerated population and correctional workers through increased infection control and PPE measures, as well as encouraging the compassionate release of inmates with COVID-19 related illness.

The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others prompted the AMA to pass detailed policy outlining racism as a public health crisis, highlighting medicine’s role in perpetuating racial bias and inequities against vulnerable patient populations. Race was officially recognized as a social, not biological, construct. In addition to dedicating resources towards evidence-based solutions to mitigate racial bias within health care, a significant amount of discussion centered on excessive use of force by law enforcement. New policy acknowledged that police brutality disproportionately impacts people of color as a function of structural racism, stressed the importance of antibias training to avoid discrimination and racial profiling by law enforcement, and encouraged community partnerships to encourage safe practices.

Telemedicine, a major legislative priority for the AUA before COVID-19, saw rapid expansion in the wake of national lockdowns that precluded non-essential travel. In a postpandemic health care environment, the maintenance of telehealth coverage by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and private insurers was strongly supported by new AMA policy. It also advocated for equitable access to telemedicine services and required infrastructure to reduce disparities that can affect at-risk populations.

With a COVID-19 vaccine on the brink of distribution and a new incoming administration, the health policy landscape is likely to shift in 2021. President-elect Biden has committed to preserving the protections under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, lowering premiums, reducing “surprise billing” and growing home health care services, of course dependent on the Congressional landscape during the first half of his term. As the health care climate is again in the midst of a transition, there continues to be a dire need for physician–namely urologist–representation in organized medicine and the federal government. For interested trainees, the AUA Advocacy and Policy Workgroup and the AUA Summit allow residents and fellows to ensure their voices are heard to advance the interests of our patients and profession.

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