Every year, the Academy’s Mid-Year Forum in Washington, D.C., is an opportunity to make a difference for ophthalmology. This year that chance coincides with a particularly important historical moment. For the first time since 1939, there are more than 100 new members of Congress. That’s 20 percent new members and staff, all of whom very likely don’t know the difference between an ophthalmologist and optometrist.
“I view this year in some respects as a ‘perfect storm,’” says Academy executive vice president and CEO David W. Parke II, MD. “We have more than 100 new members of Congress colliding with a critically important, exceedingly complex and highly contentious health care agenda.”
This year’s Mid-Year Forum and Congressional Advocacy Day (April 6 to 7) present a great opportunity to get in early with these Congressional members and staffers and educate them on both the nuances of the health care issues they will have to address, as well as other matters of importance to ophthalmology.
“There are scope-of-practice battles and basic education that needs to happen with this freshman group,” says Cathy Cohen, the Academy’s vice president of governmental affairs. “Many of these new members have never heard of the sustainable growth rate and why it is important for medicine in general, let alone ophthalmology specifically.”
You Have to Speak to Be Heard
For 2011, the Academy’s goal for Congressional Advocacy Day is to speak with every single member of Congress. That’s 535 men and women and their staff who have a say in your future and how you practice medicine.
Dr. Parke says it’s especially critical for young ophthalmologists to create a personal relationship with legislators now so you can have a say in your future. Efforts made during this Congressional Advocacy Day will have an impact on how you and all ophthalmologists practice medicine in the future and how you are reimbursed a decade from now. “No one advocates for ophthalmology but ophthalmology,” Dr. Parke says.
As YO Julie Kim, MD, learned, getting involved in advocacy for the profession is pretty simple and pain-free. Two years ago, Dr. Kim attended her first Mid-Year Forum as a member of the Academy’s YO advocacy subcommittee. What she saw impressed her.
“Ophthalmologists are so organized and on the ball!” says Dr. Kim. “They know the issues so well and share that knowledge with everyone during Congressional Advocacy Day so we can go to the Hill and speak intelligently with members of Congress about the issues.”
That organization pays off in a range of ways – from the recent increase to cataract reimbursements (even as other specialties have experienced cuts), to earning the respect of legislators and their staff.
During a recent federal affairs secretariat meeting in Washington, Dr. Kim had the opportunity to meet with Russ Sullivan, chief staffer for the Senate Finance Committee. “He seemed to be really interested in youth,” Dr. Kim said. And when she mentioned the impact of current medical-liability laws on some of her colleagues, even those still in residency, Sullivan took note.
“He asked for a proposal from YOs to understand their perspective on health care reform,” Dr. Kim said. “I think what really sticks out for him is that YOs are enthusiastic and they recognize this drive to improve medicine.”
Mark Your Calendars
This is a critical time for medicine and a critical time for ophthalmology. But there is also a great opportunity to get involved and truly make a difference.
This year’s Mid-Year Forum is April 6 to 9. Advocacy Day starts April 6 with a dinner briefing, at which participants are provided with “issue briefs” prepared by the Academy’s governmental affairs office so that they fully understand the issues and the Academy’s positions, as well as the key issues facing ophthalmology and medicine as a whole.
Then, on April 7, ophthalmologists take the Hill by storm, meeting with members of Congress and their staff and educating them on the issues. The Mid-Year Forum itself begins that afternoon, with a welcome from Dr. Parke and 2011 Academy president Richard L. Abbott, MD.
Covered in the forum:
- The outlook for Medicare payment under the new health care reform (session led by Michael X. Repka, MD, the Academy’s medical director for governmental affairs). Speakers will discuss the impact of health care reform, including payment reform for ophthalmologists. The session will also include a snapshot of the health care environment for ophthalmology in 2011, 2015 and 2020.
- The ethical and practical aspects of implementing an integrated eye care delivery team (the focus of a session April 8).
- Electronic health records and data registries, both of which are coming to play a significant role in medicine.
- Volunteering overseas.
The forum will conclude with a discussion on political involvement, highlighting the highs and lows of running for office. Several of your fellow ophthalmologists will share their insights on lessons learned while managing their political careers, covering what is at stake for your practice, family and career when deciding to run for office.
Be a Part of Political History
Whether you attend the Mid-Year Forum as one of the 100-plus participants of the Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador Program, as a member of an Academy committee, a state or subspecialty society leader or on your own, it is important that you get involved. Registration is open until March 16, so there is still time to secure your place in history.
If you're short on time, but live near the capitol, consider just registering for Congressional Advocacy Day (bonus: it's free). And if advocacy intimidates you, you can even sign up to be paired with a mentor. Learn more about the forum, hear stories from previous years and see attendees' photos in the Mid-Year Forum group.
“As a young ophthalmologist, you have 30 or more years of practice ahead of you,” says Dr. Parke. “The decisions Congress will make in the next year may frame the rest of your career. How can you not get involved?”
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About the author: Kimberly Day is a freelance health writer and medical editor and a frequent contributor to YO Info. She is the co-author of Hormone Revolution and ghost writer of Eat Papayas Naked. Additional reporting by Christi A. Foist, YO Info managing editor.