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American Medical Association President Discusses COVID-19 Pandemic Affect on Doctors

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President of the American Medical Association, Dr. Patrice Harris speaks with Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani about the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Harris breaks down the stimulus package making its way through Congress as well as how the healthcare landscape will change for the future after the pandemic ends.

Video Transcript

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Dr. Harris, thank you so much for joining me today. We know that we are waiting with-- eagerly waiting for the stimulus package to pass and everything that is included in there.

So for those who don't know, you lead the American Medical Association, which represents physicians across the board, whether you're talking about working in hospitals or physician practices. So there's a large range of individuals that you represent. How does the stimulus package that Congress is looking at right now-- how does that affect your members?

PATRICE HARRIS: Well, thank you, first of all, for having me. It's a pleasure to be with you. And yes, we are reviewing the current stimulus package-- our team in DC. Because, you know, physicians on the front line, whether they are working in hospitals or whether they are in their private practice offices, are being impacted by this.

Of course the physicians in emergency departments and those who are seeing those who are acutely affected by COVID-19 need personal protective equipment. You know, many physicians, nurses, other health professionals are working around the clock without appropriate protection. So that's important. And we also need to make sure that we have the ventilators and all those things we need in acute care.

But I think most people don't also appreciate that, as we appropriately focus on COVID-19, other urgent health needs will arise. And physicians have limited their office hours appropriately for safety, are using telehealth more. But we need to make sure that the package also contains support for those in the private practice, those practices that are, in effect, small businesses in their communities and pay rent and pay salaries.

So just as you noted, there is a diversity of physician practice settings in this country and we have been advocating for support for that diversity of physician practices. And so we understand that there is direct physician support through many ways but we will wait to make sure that that is the case.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: I understand that that is one of the concerns. I've been reporting on how the independent practices especially, though they do in fact qualify for this possibly for small business loans, it's not clear where they would in fact get the support from, whether it's through direct aid from a stimulus package-type strategy or small business loans. What is your sense right now on where that would come from if it does go the small business loan route?

PATRICE HARRIS: Well, certainly, you know, physicians are small businesses. And as we understand, there are some provisions for loans. And so again, our team is reviewing that. It's something that we certainly encouraged the administration-- and certainly physicians have been talking to their legislators-- to make sure, because physicians in private practice need PPEs as well, you know. Certainly, there are different levels of need, but physicians need that as well.

And so we will look-- preliminary review appears that there is some relief for physician practices. Of course as you know, just as any other legislation, we'll have to work out the processes. And of course our team and the AMA will be there to work those out. But you know, we're hearing that, and of course we advocated for that support for physician practices of course, as well as hospitals because physicians are working in those hospitals as well.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: And I know that there was a sort of a united front in terms of working with other trade groups as well, including the hospital group, to get this legislation passed. What was that effort like? What did it take? And what was really the balance of power, if you will, for the ask?

PATRICE HARRIS: Well, you know, there are so many stakeholders involved in health care in this country. And so we actually have to work together. We are all in this together-- from those individuals who, by the way, hopefully are staying home and physical distancing-- to, again, our efforts at the AMA to encourage the president to use the full force of government and pull any levers to make sure physicians, and hospitals, and nurses get the support that they need.

And so actually, we have partnered with the American Hospital Association and the American Nursing Association on a couple of things. The last letter was to the public, which was to stay home. But our initial letters were about support-- support for all of us, that financial support. We requested in one of our letters $100 billion.

And you know, we are in unprecedented times. I sometimes hate to use that word, but times are unprecedented. And that was just sort of our figure of what we may need to make sure that we have a stable, solid health care system from the very small private practice of one or two physicians, to the large hospital system. So it was important for us to partner with the hospitals and the nurses on many of these efforts.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So one of the things we've also known about is just the difference between how pre-outbreak issues are affecting and exacerbating the problem, whether it's for smaller independent physician groups or smaller rural hospitals. And so looking at that, does this have the potential to really have an exaggerated effect of this pandemic, have an exaggerated effect on the health care landscape as we see it today?

PATRICE HARRIS: Well, certainly that will be a part of the after action review. And certainly physicians and the AMA will be keenly interested in that. As you may be aware, the American Medical Association supports physicians being able to practice in the setting that best meets their needs and the needs of their families. And that goes from the small "onesie" and "twosie" as we call them private practices, to physicians who are practicing in large hospital settings. So we will continue to monitor that.

But for the AMA, we want to make sure there is that support, direct financial support, the ability to obtain small business loans-- again, for the small "onesie" and "twosie" to the large practice. You know, physician practices both large and small are oftentimes economic drivers in the community, particularly rural areas. And they hire employees, and pay salaries, and pay rent. And so we really need to make sure that there is support for physicians in all practice settings.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So we know that one of the things that's really important right now is getting medical equipment, including a range of personal gear to actual medical devices, to the front line workers. And there have been reports from the federal level to the state level saying that the government does, in fact, have possession of this but it may not be seen on the front lines just yet. What is that delay about, and will we see that change pretty soon?

PATRICE HARRIS: Well, for physicians in this country, the metric is whether or not they have the supplies that they need in their hands-- you know, the gowns on their bodies, the masks on their faces. And so certainly we are glad, and I've been hearing that this equipment is coming.

But for us, we will continue to sound the alarm until physicians and nurses get the equipment that they need. It's about results. You know, it's not enough to say the right things. We also have to do the right things. And those right things have to end in results. And so when we have the equipment that we need-- and you know, we cannot forget the testing supplies that we need, including the chemicals. And then, the ventilators.

I'm here in Atlanta, and our ICU beds are at capacity. And of course, many of those patients in ICUs need ventilators, those machines that breathe for them, need to breathe for them. And so we need to see those supplies on the front lines. And so we will continue to raise the alarm until we get those results. We have asked the president to implement the DPA, the Defense Production Act. It is an all hands on deck endeavor here, but it has to end in results.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Harris.

PATRICE HARRIS: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.