The Academy’s OPHTHPAC fund provides the profession a means of supporting pro-ophthalmology candidates and members of the U.S. Congress, which cannot legally be done using membership dues. Political action committees are fully legal and highly regulated by the Federal Election Commission to assure that all funds are raised and distributed appropriately, as there are limits on how much an individual can invest in OPHTHPAC and how much an organization can contribute to a candidate.
If you’re new to politics, this and other political action committees can be overwhelming. We asked Jeff S. Maltzman, MD, FACS, chair of the Academy’s OPHTHPAC committee, why the PAC should be on every ophthalmologist’s radar, especially at the front-end of your career.
What was your first exposure to OPHTHPAC? Were you immediately compelled to give?
I first learned about OPHTHPAC back in 2003. I had just started practicing the year prior, which happened to be the first year that the sustainable growth rate triggered a 5 percent cut to Medicare reimbursement the following year. As I wondered what I could do to help prevent further cuts in the future, a wise colleague suggested getting involved in the Academy's advocacy efforts, including contributing to OPHTHPAC.
I started investing in 2003 and have done so every year since.
Who ingrained into you why OPHTHPAC is necessary?
S. William Clark, MD, the chair of OPHTHPAC when I initially served on the committee years ago, taught me much of what I know about the necessity and function of OPHTHPAC. It was, however, a member of Congress who actually made me fully understand the impact OPHTHPAC has in advancing our legislative agenda. Gabby Giffords, my Arizona congresswoman at the time, spoke passionately about the need for physicians to be more proactive in advocating for their professions and their patients.
She was grateful to the Academy for our support of her campaign, explaining to me how important and helpful PAC contributions are. Understanding the true impact that our funds have on individual campaigns sealed my commitment to advocacy and to OPHTHPAC.
Knowing what you know now, what do you wish someone told you then about OPHTHPAC?
I wish I'd fully understood exactly how big an impact OPHTHPAC has on advancing ophthalmology's legislative agenda in Washington. The Academy has an active and highly capable staff in D.C. who lobby very effectively on our behalf. OPHTHPAC opens doors for them on Capitol Hill and helps us build relationships that will benefit the profession when important issues arise.
How does one get over the cynicism and malaise that permeates politics these days?
It's easy to feel somewhat confused and overwhelmed by the political landscape today. With approval ratings for all three branches of our federal government at all-time lows, it's clear the American people -- including most physicians -- are frustrated. We feel it in our practices and hear it from our patients every day.
However, it's important that we focus on the positive rather than the negative; the details over the often-messy big picture. Ophthalmology's advocacy efforts have borne significant victories during my 15 years in practice, such as repeal of the SGR formula, reversal of significant cuts in glaucoma and retinal surgical fees, and relief from burdensome electronic health record regulations.
These wins take commitment, hard work and an optimistic approach to the issues. As young ophthalmologists with long, rewarding careers ahead, I hope you'll reject the cynicism and fight for your profession, your practices and your patients.
We call OPHTHPAC an investment. With so much competition for your hard-earned dollars, why should OPHTHPAC be a foremost consideration?
We must think of OPHTHPAC as an integral part of our practice. Investments are made to produce results and provide dividends. That's precisely what OPHTHPAC does for all of us.
I think of OPHTHPAC as a mutual fund, pooling the collective resources of many, contributing to numerous and diverse members of Congress who help us achieve our legislative and regulatory goals. The more ophthalmologists who invest in OPHTHPAC, the more the fund can work for the profession. It really is that simple. Ophthalmology's continued legislative successes are contingent on a strong PAC.
I urge young physicians to start investing even a small amount early in your careers, and increase your contributions as your income allows. Take pride in knowing that you are contributing to a brighter future for all of us and our patients.
Can you call yourself an advocate if you don’t give to OPHTHPAC?
There are many ways to advocate for ophthalmology, and physicians need not participate in every endeavor. You can email or call a member of Congress to support the Academy's position when needed. You might develop a relationship with a member of Congress and discuss important issues with them personally when necessary. You can host or attend fundraisers for Academy-supported candidates, or go to Washington to participate in the Academy’s Mid-Year Forum, which includes Congressional Advocacy Day. That’s when you can lobby your state's legislative delegation. Many of our colleagues participate in one or several of these activities, though some don't have the time or inclination to do so.
An investment in OPHTHPAC, however, takes almost no effort and should be made by all of us. If every eligible ophthalmologist contributed a single dollar per day -- 365 dollars per year -- we would have the largest medical specialty PAC in the country.
Complete this sentence: Without OPHTHPAC...
I wouldn't have a job in the Academy!
Joking aside, without OPHTHPAC we wouldn't be as successful in the legislative and regulatory arenas as we have been, plain and simple. As I mentioned earlier, OPHTHPAC opens doors and gets us a seat at the table. There is, however, a lot of competition for those seats, and nearly every industry, company, and trade organization in this country has a PAC working to promote their interests.
Without OPHTHPAC we would be at a great disadvantage. Conversely, with a stronger OPHTHPAC we would be able to reach more members of Congress and develop more significant relationships.
It’s easy to invest in the Academy’s OPHTHPAC fund. Visit aao.org and click on the “Advocacy” section. Then, click "Join OPHTHPAC" to become an investor. And don’t forget to sign up for the latest advocacy updates directly on your phone or mobile device. Text "OPHTH" to 51555 to enroll, and we'll send periodic messages with the latest on Academy advocacy efforts, information about OPHTHPAC, who we support, how funds are distributed and victories we achieve. We promise not to overwhelm you with messages.
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About the author: Matt Daigle is the Academy’s advocacy communications manager and editor of Washington Report Express.