AMA president-elect, from Lexington, talks with KET host about the myriad issues facing his profession and its patients

Steven J. Stack

The new president-elect of the American Medical Association, Dr. Steven J. Stack of Lexington, covered a range of topics with Bill Goodman on KET‘s “One to One” in December, including the AMA’s advocacy role, health information technology, improving health disparities in Kentucky and medical liability reform.

Stack, an emergency physician in Lexington, told Goodman that his experience as an emergency room physician would bring a unique perspective to his role as AMA president because he has seen first-hand how many people don’t have health insurance and therefore a lack of access to routine care.

“As an emergency-room physician, it has been for me a personal hope and aspiration and a great joy to see that we are making strides finally to improve American’s access to care because we know that those without access to health insurance and support live sicker and die younger,” Stack said. “And that’s a tragedy that we should not stomach easily or tolerate in this nation.”

Not only is Stack the first board-certified emergency physician elected president, when he takes office in June he will be the youngest person to lead the AMA, the nation’s largest organization for physicians. He is a longtime member of the organization and has held many leadership positions. He is the second Lexington doctor in three years to hold the office. AMA’s immediate past president is Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Kentucky.

Stack said the AMA as an association is non-partisan and works with people in both partie “to advance policies that we hope will improve patient care and the practice of medicine.” That being said, he then said he fully recognized the role of politics in health policy and said he will, “have to advocate strenuously at times for those policies that we think will be helpful.”

He talked about the privilege of being an advocate before Congress, federal agencies and the state legislature. “It is an incredible privilege and it is one that I take very seriously,” he said.

Stack headed the AMA’s Health Information Technology Advisory Group from 2007 to 2013 and is a member of the federal advisory groups for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

“Healthcare is one of the last big sectors in the U.S. economy to go digital in its management of information. And there are good reasons for that delay,” Stack said. He listed several reasons: the complexity of health care, the varying needs of different types of health-care facilities, maintaining patient privacy, continuing technological barriers, and politics.

Asked why it is taking so long to make advancements with electronic health records, Stack blamed “policy issues, differences in opinion, protecting privacy, a variation across all 50 states and layering on top of that different federal requirements.” But he added, “We will get there.”

Stack suggested that focusing on improving health outcomes, which is part of the AMA strategic plan, would ultimately help improve many of the health disparities that face so many Kentuckians.

Asked about the continued calls by some to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Stack said the time to quit arguing about it is long past, it is “the law of the land” and recent polls show that the many people who have received insurance through the PPACA are happy with it.

“It is here to stay and we need to  get to work on fixing the things that have to be fixed,” he said.

At the same time, the AMA firmly supports medical liability reform, which was not included in the reform law. Stack told Goodman that this reform is not only important for physicians, but also patients. “Only one in 100 cases actually prevail against the physician at trial,” he said, and “Nearly 90 percent of cases are either dismissed or dropped, closed or settled with no payment from the physician to the plaintiff. It is clearly not helping the patients.”

He called for “a rational system” that appropriately compensates patients who are “inappropriately harmed” and treats physicians fairly, while not making a “small number” of lawyers rich.

Asked what his overarching goal as president of the AMA would be, Stack said, “I would really like to see all Americans have access to high quality, reliable health care that is affordable and within their means. So the AMA and I will work diligently to that end and it is a great privilege to do that.”

Click here to view the program.

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