AMA Adopts New Policies Including Gun Violence Reforms and Climate Change Directives

The AMA is urging states to create ‘safe-haven’ programs to encourage treatment for physicians suffering from burnout and mental health conditions.

The American Medical Association adopted several new policies during the organization’s Annual Meeting this week.

The AMA is the largest national association representing physicians, convening more than 190 state and specialty medical societies as well as other key stakeholders. Activities of the AMA include advocacy in courts and legislatures, prevention of chronic disease, addressing public health crises, and training physician leaders.

Decisions made at this week’s AMA Annual Meeting include the following 10 policy areas.

Poverty level wages: A new AMA policy says poverty is detrimental to health, and it committed the organization to advocate for federal, state, and local policies regarding minimum wage that include adjusting the wage level to keep pace with inflation. The AMA also affirmed that minimum wage policies should be consistent with the AMA’s principle that the highest attainable standard of health is a basic human right and that optimizing the social determinants of health is an ethical obligation of a civil society.

Climate change: The AMA declared climate change a public health crisis that threatens the health and well-being of all people. Building on existing efforts to address the climate crisis, the new policy mobilizes the AMA to advocate for policies that limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, reduce US greenhouse gas emissions aimed at carbon neutrality by 2050, support rapid implementation and incentivization of clean energy solutions, and push for significant investments in climate resilience with climate justice in mind.

Addressing disinformation: With disinformation continuing to have a negative effect on efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the AMA adopted a policy to address health-related disinformation by health professionals. As part of a report developed by the AMA Board of Trustees, the new policy provides a comprehensive strategy aimed at stopping the spread of disinformation and protecting the health of the public, including actions that can be taken by the AMA, social media companies, publishers , state licensing bodies, credentialing boards, state and specialty health professional societies, and organizations that accredit continuing education.

Rural public health: With rural local health departments often limited by budgets, staffing, and capacity constraints that affect their ability to provide sufficient public health services, the AMA adopted a policy advocating for adequate and sustained funding for rural public health programs. The policy also supports equitable access to the 10 Essential Public Health Services and the Foundational Public Health Services to protect and promote the health of all people. The policy calls for more research to identify the unique needs and models for delivering public health and healthcare services in rural areas.

Combat loneliness: The AMA adopted a policy identifying loneliness as a public health issue that impacts people of all ages. The new policy supports evidence-based efforts to combat loneliness. Studies show that loneliness is not only a significant predictor of functional decline and premature death similar to the risk from obesity, but loneliness in adolescence is associated with impaired sleep, symptoms of depression, and poorer health in general.

Criminalization of reproductive health: Responding to more policing and surveillance of reproductive health services, the AMA adopted a policy recognizing that it is a violation of human rights when government intrudes into medicine and impedes access to safe, evidence-based reproductive health services, including abortion and contraception. As part of the new policy, the AMA will seek expanded legal protections for patients and physicians against government efforts that criminalize reproductive health services.

Physician mental health: For physicians who seek care for burnout or other mental health-related issues, the AMA adopted a policy to urge states to create “safe-haven” programs to encourage counseling and treatment. The programs would complement Physician Health Programs to add additional, evidence-based options for physicians to receive care and enable them to continue practicing as long as public safety is not at risk.

Cannabis legal records: The AMA adopted a policy to call on states to expunge criminal records of people who were arrested or convicted of cannabis-related offenses that later were legalized or decriminalized. The policy aims to introduce equity and fairness into the fast-changing effort to legalize cannabis. “This affects young people aspiring to careers in medicine as well as many others who are denied housing, education, loans, and job opportunities. It simply isn’t fair to ruin a life based on actions that result in convictions but are subsequently legalized or decriminalized,” AMA Trustee Scott Ferguson, MD, said in a prepared statement.

gun violence: The AMA adopted three policies related to firearms violence:

  • The AMA is advocating for school drills related to active shooter scenarios to be conducted in an evidence-based and trauma-informed way that takes children’s physical and mental wellness into account, considers prior experiences that might affect children’s response to a simulation, avoids creating additional traumatic experiences for children, and provides support for students who may be adversely affected.
  • The AMA called on state and federal lawmakers to subject homemade “ghost guns” to the same regulations and licensing requirements as traditional firearms.
  • The AMA committed to advocating for legislation requiring that packaging for ammunition carry a boxed warning. At a minimum, the AMA favors a warning with text-based statistics and/or graphic warning labels related to the risks, harms, and mortality associated with gun ownership and use.

Sexual assault examination kit backlog: The AMA called on state and federal officials to process all backlogged and new sexual assault examination kits upon patient consent and in a timely fashion. The kits have played a significant role in identifying and incarcerating perpetrators of violent sexual crimes. Even when a suspect cannot be instantly identified, the information can be uploaded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined DNA Index System and assist in the later identification of a criminal. The AMA also called for additional money to facilitate the immediate testing of the kits.

Related: Anesthesiologist Becomes American Medical Association President-Elect

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.

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