Medicine: The A.M.A. & the U.S.A.

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The High Command. Critics of A.M.A., including many members, charge that this ponderous machinery keeps A.M.A. from reflecting the varied and open-minded attitudes of doctors themselves and gives rise to the common complaint that "we are respected as individuals but looked down on as a group." Yet no poll of medical opinion uncovers much dissent. Kansas Pathologist William Reals says, "It's the only voice the doctors have." His general-practitioner neighbor Walter Reazin adds: "I think its basic principles are right." If somewhat glacially, the House of Delegates does represent doctors. Yet A.M.A.'s week-to-week affairs must be left in the hands of the staff at headquarters in Chicago. Thus the public picture of A.M.A. is often formed by only four men:

¶ Dr. Francis James Levi ("Bing") Blasingame, 54, Arkansas-born and Texas-reared, a private practitioner (surgeon) for 20 years, is executive vice president and senior administrative officer.

¶ Dr. Ernest Bertram Howard, 51, graduate of Harvard College and Boston University School of Medicine and a former director of VD control for Massachusetts, is assistant executive vice president.

¶ Clarence Joseph Stetler, 44, graduate of Catholic University, who worked for the U.S. Civil Service Commission and Social Security Administration before joining A.M.A. in 1951, is general counsel, director of the legal and socio-economic division, and director of a special commission on the cost of medical care.

¶ Leo Emerson Brown, 48, from Clarion State Teachers College, former teacher, athletics coach, public relations secretary for the Pennsylvania Medical Society, is director of public relations.

Insiders nominate Bert Howard as the single most powerful individual. Though technically assistant to Bing Blasingame, he dominates policymaking, chairs the "legislative task force" that keeps a hawk-eyed watch on federal legislation, and swoops in to fight bills that run counter to A.M.A. principles. The headquarters' permanent staff inevitably wields great power. No one-year president, such as Larson, can dislodge it. A front runner for next year's presidency, who showed an itch to get the reins in his own hands, was shunted aside last week.

Lobby with a Weapon. The A.M.A. Washington lobby may not be, as Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Abraham Ribicoff charges, "the most powerful in America," but it commands the profound respect of beefier, louder-talking outfits. The A.M.A. lobby, has only 13 people in its Washington office. It picks its legislative targets knowingly and concentrates its fire, and it is the envy of other lobbies because it has a secret weapon: the Congressman's personal physician.

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