• Third Time’s a Charm: How Advocacy Helped Slay the ‘SGR Dragon’

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    I was zipping up my luggage, preparing for my trip to Washington, D.C., for the Academy’s Congressional Advocacy Day and Mid-Year Forum, when I heard the familiar “ding” from my phone telling me I had an email. Compulsively checking it immediately, much to the chagrin of my wife, I quickly read the Academy blast that proclaimed the Senate had passed the SGR repeal! YES, I thought! We had finally done it!

    Peter A. Karth, MD, MBA
    Dr. Karth during the 2015 Mid-Year Forum. He was sponsored to attend by the American Society of Retina Specialists.

    Three years ago, I attended my first Congressional Advocacy Day and Mid-Year Forum. That experience triggered my ongoing concern for the future of our great profession and our ability to care for patients in the best possible way. With the kind support of my sponsoring organizations (American Society of Retina Specialists and the Academy), I have been able to return to Washington, D.C., for Advocacy Day and Mid-Year Forum two more times. Each time, I’ve become more committed and involved in the process of advocacy and the great work the Academy is doing to improve the future of our patients and ourselves.

    This year, when the SGR repeal passed, I felt a sense of pride in this accomplishment, as if my presence at Advocacy Day and voice over the past three years has somehow helped, even a tiny bit. I have donated a small part of my small fellow salary to the OPHTHPAC® and the Surgical Scope Funds each year. I have contacted my Congress-people at least a few times each month to remind them of our common interest in making sure the citizens of my district can access the best care possible. And I have come to Advocacy Day and made my small voice heard on Capital Hill.

    In a meaningful way, I know the time and efforts my fellow ambassadors have put forth helped ophthalmologists and their patients obtain this important victory. Yet we stand on the shoulders of giants: those Academy members and officeholders who have taken up this fight in a way I can only aspire to do. As a profession, we are eternally grateful to the hard work of these committed individuals.

    But we must not rest with this great victory. Our patients are still under threat. Our profession is still under threat.

    Advocacy Ambassadors and Leaders From ASRS
    Dr. Karth with fellow advocacy ambassadors and Academy leaders. Back row, left to right: Jennifer I. Lim, MD, councilor, Retina Society; Mathew W. MacCumber, MD, PhD, Academy Council vice chair; Judy E. Kim, councilor, ASRS; and Paul D. Weishaar, MD, alternate councilor, Kansas Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. Front row, left to right: ambassadors George J. Parlitsis, MD; Christine F. Lin, MD; and Dr. Karth.

    High on the Academy advocacy agenda this year is the Truth in Healthcare Marketing Act. During Advocacy Day, we asked Congress to assure transparency for patients by requiring proper labeling for each member of the eye care team. We also sought changes to the federal EHR incentive program – “meaningful use” -- that would un-hobble doctors and allow them to focus on providing superior clinical care.

    That’s not all. Our ability to use more cost effective medications via compounding is a crucial issue that currently hangs in the balance at the Food and Drug Administration. Clinician scientists desperately need funds to promote vision-saving research. There are also future legislative battles on the horizon, some that promise to be nearly as ferocious as the slain SGR dragon.

    I believe our duty as physicians mandates that we advocate for our patients’ health and well-being. We do this directly every day in our offices and operating rooms. We regularly stand up to hospital administrators and insurance companies on behalf of our patients.

    However, we must do more. We must rise and make our voice heard in Washington, D.C., and in our state capitals. Whether it is writing a check to OPHTHPAC or the Surgical Scope Fund, contacting your legislator or making the trip to Advocacy Day, we must answer the call for our patients and our profession.

    And by we, I mean you. And me. And everyone.

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    About the author: Peter A. Karth, MD, MBA, is a retina fellow at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He was sponsored to attend the Mid-Year Forum by the American Society of Retina Specialists.

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