When I completed my fellowship and entered private practice in 2002, Medicare physician reimbursements were cut over 5% due to a flawed payment methodology known as the sustainable growth rate.
Thankfully, that rate no longer exists. Although I was upset that my education and training were being devalued, I really didn’t know what to do or how to respond. Then a friend invited me to attend the Academy’s Congressional Advocacy Day and Mid-Year Forum in Washington, D.C.
I found this meeting both eye opening and empowering and realized that there was a lot that I could do, that I should do, to improve the practice of ophthalmology for myself, for my colleagues, and, most importantly, for my patients. I’ve been an ardent advocate for our profession since then, and I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned as you cross the threshold into practice.
Like It or Not, Politics Impact Practices
You’ve likely heard the expression, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” The wrangling that occurs in Washington, D.C., and in our state capitals has a tremendous impact on medical practice. Laws are passed and regulations established which, despite the best intentions of policymakers, often fail to adequately address the needs of physicians and their patients. At worst, they can be truly detrimental.
Although physicians are not experts in health policy, we are experts in the direct delivery of health care. We know what works, what doesn’t and, most importantly, what our patients need to remain healthy. It’s up to us to get engaged in the process of shaping healthcare policy, both nationally and locally. Advocacy is simply education and persuasion, two skills that every physician has mastered and employs every day. Nobody cares about your practice and your patients as much as you do, and nobody else will fight as hard to protect them.
Advocacy: A Contact Sport
Without a doubt, the most important element of effective advocacy is the development of strong relationships. If legislators and their staff know and trust you, they’re far more likely to listen to you. In fact, they may come to rely upon you as a resource and someone to turn to when policy advice is needed.
The Academy and your state ophthalmic society are excellent resources to help you make initial contact. Email or call your representative or attend a local event. Be persistent but not pushy and, over time, a connection will develop. Then, when important issues arise, you’ll have your lawmakers’ ears.
As you’re quite aware, U.S. political campaigns can be very expensive. Politicians are keenly aware of these costs and contributing directly to a legislator’s efforts is an excellent way to get noticed and foster your growing relationship.
Investing annually in the Academy’s Surgical Scope Fund and its political action committee, OPHTHPAC®, as well as your state’s eye PAC is key to helping ophthalmology achieve its advocacy goals. You can think of a PAC as a mutual fund of political giving; money from multiple physician investors is pooled and contributed to the campaigns of ophthalmology-friendly officeholders and seekers. These contributions offer our organizations access to those individuals, allowing us to garner support on the issues most important to our profession.
We Float or Sink Together
I know that you’re busy. You’ve just completed training, and you’re about to set out into practice. You also don’t have much money and may be significantly in debt. Nevertheless, you have more to gain or lose than anyone else currently in practice.
I urge you to be an active advocate for your profession and your patients, to contribute both your time and your money, neither of which is required in large amounts right now. Simply develop the habit of acting, of giving. Respond when the Academy or your state society requests your action on an issue. Contribute to the Surgical Scope Fund, OPHTHPAC and your state ophthalmology society’s PAC annually. Simply start with what you can afford and increase your participation as your finances improve.
In my humble opinion, you’ve chosen the best specialty in all of medicine. I can think of no other that offers as much professional and personal satisfaction, no other that contributes as positively to our patients’ overall quality of life. Yet as my senior partner says, “It takes a lot of effort to maintain the status quo.” And I’ll add: it takes considerably more to advance the status quo. Our great profession is worth fighting for. Will you heed the call?
The next Mid-Year Forum will be held in Washington, D.C., April 6-9, 2022. Congressional Advocacy Day is expected to be held on April 7, 2022.
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Jeff S. Maltzman, MD,
is chairman of the Academy’s political action committee, OPHTHPAC.