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Friday Aug 10, 2012

Congressional Recess Offers Opportunity to Advocate at Home

One hundred years ago if you were in Washington, D.C., and you had a question or comment for the president, you could just walk up to the door of the White House, knock, and ask the president yourself. Those days of access are long gone, and I hate to think what would happen to you if you tried that trick today.

However, you still have an opportunity to affect the political process via your legislators, and you don't even have to travel to Washington to do it. In fact, many legislators are home right now for Congress' summer recess, and in this election year, they want to learn about what is important to their constituents, who just happen to be you and your patients. 

This is the right time to talk about issues that affect family medicine, including

  • Medicare physician payment reform,
  • adequate funding for primary care workforce programs, and
  • support for legislation that would test innovative models for training primary care physicians.

Some people might think one person can't make a difference. Others might object that they don't have time. The truth is that even small efforts can pay off in a big way.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. A few years ago I was able to present a check from FamMedPAC, the AAFP’s political action committee, to Michael Bennet when he was running for one of my state's spots in the U.S. Senate. Although Sen. Bennet, D-Colo., already appreciated the importance of primary care, our brief meeting with him helped him better understand some of the challenges we face in family medicine, including the need for increased educational funding.

Other family physicians also reached out to Bennet, and a year later he was one of seven senators who signed a letter urging the Institute of Medicine to conduct an independent review of the governance and financing of graduate medical education. That study is now underway.

Senators, representatives, state reps and governors all have one thing in common when it comes to health care. Their constituents -- the people who elect them and re-elect them, or not -- are our patients. Legislators are interested in hearing about how health care is directly affecting people in their states or districts. Real patient stories from our practices can help them better understand the needs of our patients and our specialty.

Even brief meetings with legislators can pay off big time in the future. More than 10 years ago, I had a meeting with my then-State Rep. Doug Linkhart to discuss the unbelievable fact that health insurance plans were not paying for prosthetic limbs. I explained to him how artificial arms and legs allow amputees -- including myself -- to live full and productive lives, and the fact that providing appropriate coverage for prosthetic limbs has been shown to actually lower overall health care costs. Linkhart not only listened to me, he explained the legislative process, supported our bill and recommended other lawmakers who could help.

In 2000, Colorado became the first state to mandate that health plans cover prosthetic limbs. Today, 21 other states have passed similar laws.

If I can do this, so can you.

The Academy has developed resources on scheduling and conducting a meeting with a legislator, participating in town hall meetings, and inviting a legislator to visit your practice.

Laws determine how we are paid and how future physicians are educated, and they affect the care our patients receive. It's critical that our legislators hear our stories.

Congress is in recess until Sept. 10. Are you ready to make a difference?

Jeffrey Cain, M.D.of Denver, is president-elect of the AAFP.

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The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.