Conversing with Congress: Physicians take top issues to the Hill
Hundreds of physician voices echoed through the halls of offices on Capitol Hill this week as they took their message to Congress on what needs to be done to address top health policy issues and burdensome regulations that steal time and resources from patients.
The 2016 National Advocacy Conference, which lasted Monday through Wednesday, gave physicians the opportunity to meet face to face with members of Congress and gain important insights from industry experts, political insiders and members of Congress.
Among the topics physicians discussed this year were the upcoming regulations for implementing the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, solutions for addressing the opioid epidemic and legislation that would ensure that patients and their physicians are able to use new technologies that remove barriers to timely, high-quality care.
Why physicians are talking to their lawmakers
“Simplify, standardize and make clinically relevant laws and regulations to make more time for patients, less red tape and less physician burnout,” said Katie Lozano, MD, a musculoskeletal radiologist and president-elect of the Colorado Medical Society. “That’s the mantra in our state, and the AMA has been really supportive.”
Dr. Lozano and her group met with several representatives and senators from Colorado throughout the three days they spent in the nation’s capital. Most groups of physicians from different states who attended the conference had between five and eight appointments with their members of Congress.
“Though we’re bringing our own issues to the Hill,” Dr. Lozano said, “we want to thank them for the work they’ve done so far—for repealing [Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula]. But we also want to ask them what they need from us. We offer to serve as a resource because this is a partnership for the people in our state.”
Scott E. Shapiro, MD, a cardiovascular disease and internal medicine specialist and president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, attended the conference with a number of colleagues from the Keystone State. “We are going to several representatives to talk about … how small independent practices are going to be able to participate in alternative payment models under [the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System],” Dr. Shapiro said as the group prepared for their meetings on the Hill.
“We need viable options to deal with population health management and help with payment reform,” he said. Dr. Shapiro and his colleagues also talked with their members of Congress about their state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), which has seen funding problems as a result of budgetary issues in their state.
Discussing solutions to the opioid epidemic
Sheila Rege, MD, a radiation oncologist from the state of Washington, sat down with six members of Congress during the National Advocacy Conference to discuss the opioid epidemic. Addressing the epidemic in the right way is important, both to prevent overdoses and to ensure “that oncologists like me can still help our cancer patients,” she said. “Having the AMA involved and the effort being physician-led is key.”
“[I]t’s critical that we do this right away,” Dr. Rege said. “One thing I like about these legislators is that they actually do try to come. I think physicians don’t realize that they do want to hear from us.”
Bob Dannenhoffer, MD, a pediatrician in Oregon, flew into D.C. to raise similar concerns. “We’re going to talk a lot about opioids,” he said. “This is really important in Oregon; we’re seeing this become especially devastating for our rural county.”
“I think it’s really important that the congressional delegation knows about this,” Dr. Dannenhoffer said. “This is affecting all ages and all races. We need better use of PDMPs and naloxone. I think this will be an issue where there will be a lot of bipartisan support.”
Dr. Lozano and her group had an excellent series of visits, which culminated in a meeting with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who is a member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).
“We’ve been doing this all day,” Dr. Lozano said Tuesday. “We gave them our real-life experiences; that’s why we brought everyone to the meeting. It’s important for them to see how it affects us day to day.”
“I think it went really well,” said Patrick Pevoto, MD, an OB-GYN who was part of the Colorado group. “We had four points we wanted to bring up. … I think everyone was receptive. I’m very encouraged by the response we had from both the House and the Senate.”