Friday Mar 15, 2013

Week in D.C. Creates Opportunities to Advocate for Family Physicians

I recently returned from an extremely busy week in Washington where the Academy's Board of Directors met to review issues that are important to family physicians and our country.

We were able to take advantage of our location to advocate for family medicine on Capitol Hill during the meeting. Despite a government shutdown caused by a snowstorm -- which was predicted to hit D.C., but did not -- many of our elected leaders were able to meet with their representatives. AAFP President Jeff Cain, M.D., director Dan Spogen, M.D., and I met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., (pictured below) to deliver our messages about payment reform -- including the need to repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) -- graduate medical education (GME) funding and other critical issues.

Although the Board agenda was filled with a few days' worth of discussions on such topics, this trip also presented an opportunity for me to speak for family physicians in other venues, as well. I actually arrived days before the Board meeting to represent you at some intriguing events.

I attended a press conference organized by the National Commission on Physician Payment Reform. This group was convened by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., R-Tenn., and Steven Schroeder, M.D., of the University of California-San Francisco, to devise ways to directly address payment reform. The commission made a dozen recommendations, including eliminating the SGR and replacing fee-for-service with a new model based on quality and value.

It's worth noting that the AAFP convened a task force two years ago that made similar suggestions last year.

At the press conference, I applauded the work of the commission and recognized that it supported the AAFP's recommendations to CMS and other bodies on specific ways to steer payment away from a strict fee-for-service model. I also had a chance to talk with a reporter from the British Medical Journal whose subsequent article  referenced the AAFP's work, as well as the commission's report. The more we all work and move suggestions together with one voice, the more likely changes are to happen.

Next, I represented the AAFP at a special meeting called by aides to first lady Michelle Obama. We met in her office to discuss the needs of our service men and women and military veterans. I was able to highlight the AAFP's commitment to this special group through the Academy's Joining Forces website.

Some of the critical needs identified were improving coordination of medical records between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system and addressing the needs of our women veterans. In addition, providing mental health services is a huge need for our veterans. For both of these groups, family physicians are ideally suited to help. Several physician organizations -- including the AAFP --  and veteran service organizations are collaborating to identify ways to improve the care of these heroes who serve our country. That includes trying to find a more efficient way for physicians to see these patients outside the VA system.

Finally, the AAFP also participated in another effort involving the first lady, the Building a Healthier Future Summit. That dynamic, three-day event brought together more than 1,000 representatives of private and public sector groups to fight childhood obesity. The AAFP was invited based on our Americans In Motion -- Healthy Interventions (AIM-HI) fitness initiative.

Michelle Obama spoke at the summit, and representatives from supporting organizations -- including the AAFP -- were on stage to be recognized. You will be pleased to know that afterwards there was a lot of recognition of the "distinguished-looking" representative from the AAFP. (During my speech in Philadelphia at the Scientific Assembly, I did promise that my beard would not be ignored -- or forgotten.)

These are exciting times. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you and our patients in so many different venues. Wherever I go, people are talking about the importance of primary care. Our task is to make sure they also recognize the vital role that family physicians play in delivering it.

Reid Blackwelder, M.D.is the president-elect of the AAFP.

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