CHICAGO -- After a brief upward spike, the AMA's membership is shrinking again.
CHICAGO, June 25 -- After a brief upward spike, the AMA's membership is shrinking again.
Although the group boasts close to 240,000 members, 29% are students or residents, who pay sharply discounted dues. Still more of the members are retirees, whose dues are also cut.
Even more ominous for the AMA's coffers, not all of the 120,000-odd practicing physicians on the membership rolls pay the full annual dues. That's because about 25% belong to group practices, which win discount dues for signing up en masse.
The 5,000 or so members gone from last year are primarily from the ranks of actively practicing physicians, it emerged during a committee hearing at the AMA House of Delegates meeting here.
The organization didn't disclose precisely how many members it lost because, according to Cecil B. Wilson, M.D., "we don't have those numbers available." Dr. Wilson, an internist from Winter Park, Fla., chairs the AMA's board of trustees.
The AMA's Council on Long Range Planning and Development had more specificity. It reported that there are 1,060,333 physicians and medical students in the United States and 238,977 of them AMA members.
Of those members, 20.5% are medical students, 9% are residents, and 36.5% are 56 or older. As one delegate put it, "we have a lot of students and a lot of old docs, but not a lot of practicing physicians."
Dr. Wilson said membership dues brought in million in 2006, down .6 million from 2005. About a quarter of the decline -- ,000 -- could be laid to the AMA's decision to waive dues for physicians practicing in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, he said.
Just a year ago, the AMA was touting a 2.5% increase in members that marked the first rise after more than 10 years. At the time Michael D. Maves, M.D., the AMA's executive vice president, said he considered any increase at all a significant achievement in view of the long-standing downward trend.
By contrast, Dr. Wilson said this year's numbers suggest "that we still haven't solved the membership problem."
Richard Wilbur, M.D., J.D., a former executive vice president of the AMA, suggested lowering dues as a way to attract more members.
Slashing the dues by 50% or more could attract doctors reluctant to pay full price, he said. He pointed out that the ranks of students, who pay a year, and residents, who are charged , has remained steady, while full-dues paying members have declined.
In related news, Gary C. Epstein, the AMA's chief marketing officer, who created a glitzy -million "branding" campaign that Dr. Maves cited last year as a major factor behind the membership bump, will leave the AMA on Friday.
Epstein will take over as chief executive officer of ReachMD, a 24-hour news and talk format offered by XM Satellite Radio.
Epstein, who came to the AMA from Proctor & Gamble, spearheaded a number of initiatives designed to boost membership including updating the AMA logo, a switch in the organization's color scheme from aqua and white to purple and white, a series of "member-connects" roundtables hosted by AMA leaders, and ongoing radio, television, and print ads that pushed a "together we're stronger" message.
Despite the drop in members, 2006 saw a 2.1% increase in revenues and the "seventh consecutive year of operating profits," said Joseph M. Heyman, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist from Amesbury, Mass., who chairs the board of trustees' finance committee.
The biggest gains came from sale of data and credentialing products, which was up by .6 million, increases in book and products sales of .8 million, and a million increase in publishing revenues pegged mainly to higher reprint sales and an increase in online subscriptions.