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The United Federation of Doctors, Local 10

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How bad have problems with HMOs gotten? Bad enough for doctors, at least, to start thinking about the unthinkable: forming a union. The idea of taking a cue from blue-collar-labor history is one of the hottest topics at this weekĺs convention of the American Medical Association in Chicago. Many doctors around the country are growing increasingly frustrated at the restrictions that HMO money-vetting procedures have imposed on the exercise of their medical judgment. And a growing number of them want to do something about it.

Already there are private physician labor unions in about half the states, and some American Medical Association delegates want the national organization to study the possibilities and take a stand. There are major hurdles. First, of course, not all doctors agree. And second, there are some questions of definition. Many doctors operate as independent providers -- not as employees -- and for them, banding together could pose antitrust problems. "But doctors have many grievances," says TIME health reporter Janice Horowitz, and banding together may be the only way to address them. In this regard, notes Horowitz, doctors may be following in the footsteps not only of Americaĺs working-class forebears, but also of some other professional groups, such as college professors, some of whom have also pursued the unionization route.