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AMA: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

The nation's largest doctors' group has agreed to join efforts to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and rebuffed dissident members who sought to turn the doctors' group from supporting any health care reform legislation that included a government-back health insurance plan.

The American Medical Association also voted to declare that gay marriage bans contribute to health disparities for gay couples and their children.

Both gay-rights policies were adopted Tuesday at the AMA's 2009 Interim Meeting of House Delegates in Houston.

The AMA says the "don't ask, don't tell" law creates an ethical dilemma for gay service members and the doctors who treat them.

The other measure declares that marriage bans leave gays vulnerable to being excluded from health care benefits, including health insurance and family and medical leave rights.

The new AMA policy stops short of opposing the bans.

The AMA also voted to stick with its support for ongoing health reform efforts, while reiterating wariness over proposals that threaten doctors' pocketbooks and independence.

The action at the group's semiannual meeting in Houston could be seen as a vote of confidence for AMA leaders who voiced support for the $1.2-trillion, 10-year bill the U.S. House passed Saturday.

Several dissident doctor organizations within the AMA had urged the group to reverse its position and come out with a strong statement opposing Democratic-led reform efforts. Some urged the AMA's 544-member House of Delegates to vote to oppose any health overhaul that includes a public insurance option and Medicare payment cuts to doctors, and that excludes tort reform.

Another resolution stating that the AMA should oppose the just-passed House bill also was soundly defeated by a 350-167 vote, again showing delegate support for a previously-stated AMA stand.

Other policies adopted at the meeting include:

Ban Hand-Held Cell Phone Use While Driving

The AMA, whose policy already supports a ban on text-messaging while driving, said it supports expanding law to ban the use of all hand-held devices by drivers, to help prevent accidents.

A 2002 study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis estimates that 5 percent of all traffic accidents involve a driver talking on a cell phone. [And since then the number of cell phone subscribers in the U.S. has nearly doubled, from 140 million in 2002 to 264 million in 2008, according to CTIA-Wireless Association.]

1 in 20 Crashes Linked to Cell Phones

Guidelines for "Online Professionalism"
A new AMA policy calls on the AMA to develop, with partner organizations, an updated ethics code to take social networks and other online communications into account, to further online professionalism.

"Casual online communication has become the norm for many people through social media, so it's important for physicians to understand the implications their online presence may have for the patient-physician relationship, their professional reputation and the reputation of the greater medical community," said AMA Board Member William A. Hazel, MD.