Thursday Nov 29, 2012

New Members of Congress Get Orientation From AAFP, Other Physician Groups

For the past two weeks, newly elected legislators who will join Congress in January have been in Washington for orientation. Those new members of the 113th Congress have been briefed on the essentials of working in Washington, including how to hire staff, communicating with constituents and the lawmaking process.

Today, many of them received a medical education of sorts, courtesy of the AAFP, learning how their actions -- or inaction -- will affect our nation's health care system. 

Without congressional action on the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, we face a 26.5 percent reduction in Medicare payments on Jan. 1. Furthermore, the Budget Control Act's sequestration provision would cut Medicare payments by an additional 2 percent. So for the first time, the AAFP invited all of the incoming Democratic House members to its new Washington offices for a meeting with Academy staff and representatives from nearly 20 other physician organizations. (A similar event for new Republican lawmakers is being planned.)

More than a dozen new lawmakers attended and heard why a nearly 30 percent drop in Medicare physician payments poses a crisis for physicians and our practices. Even more importantly for Congress, this is a very real crisis for our patients -- who are legislators' constituents -- because access to care would be jeopardized by the looming cuts.

We also talked to the new legislators about the importance of protecting graduate medical education during the ongoing deficit reduction talks. The United States already faces a growing physician shortageCutting these vital funds is simply not an option.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa. (pictured above with Shawn Martin, AAFP vice president of advocacy and practice advancement, and Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash.) spoke to her new colleagues about the importance of working with physicians on health care issues. Schwartz, who has been a member of the House since 2005, also pointed out what an excellent resource had been presented to them -- a room full of health care policy expertise. The new members of Congress heard a unified message from these groups, who represented everyone from anesthesiologists to family medicine to vascular surgeons.

Now your legislators need to hear from you. Make a difference. Make your voice heard.

Jeff Cain, M.D., is President of the AAFP.

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