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Health & Public Policy Committee Report - September 2001

By Robert McLean, M.D., FACP

In trying to represent the interests of the physicians of the state at the political level, the Health & Public Policy Committee recognizes the crucial need to have more physician voices heard. We need your help. A major goal we have established is to make it much easier for our ACP colleagues to express our important viewpoints to our politicians on the multiple issues which affect our patients and our medical practices.

At our latest meeting in early April, the H&PP committee hosted Rep. James Maloney and honored him as our "Legislator of the Year" for his diligent efforts in the field of health legislation. He provided the group with his perspective on the current political environment in the Capitol and emphasized the crucial need for our voice to be heard since the "other" loudest and most influential voices on health care, the insurance and HMO industry, do not seem to have similar views or goals as physicians. Maloney has already co-sponsored the ACP endorsed Bipartisan Patient Protection Act of 2001, and he was not yet familiar with the Medicare Education and Regulatory Fairness Act (MERFA) - which he has subsequently signed onto as a co-sponsor. He led an interesting discussion about the complicated funding of Medicare and expressed his concern that the current President's budget moves physician payments from the "general fund" into the Medicare trust fund "lockbox", which will actually cause the trust fund to be exhausted sooner.

At the state level, many issues were either working their way through or being held up in various committees. A major issue which CSMS has been pushing hard is the improvement of funding of Medicaid in the state budget through provider rate increases and funding for dual eligible Medicare/Medicaid patients. Other issues which were important to us as internists included managed care reform especially fairness in contracting, scope of practice for other professionals: pharmacists wanting "collaboration" in some medication monitoring and naturopathic physicians wanting prescription writing authority, and efforts to decrease tobacco use via smoke-free workplace and restaurant legislation. We will try to update you on the ultimate fate of some of these pieces of legislation as the Hartford legislative session draws to a close in June, but you can also get more current updates through the state medical society at csms.org

Please become a regular reader of our Chapter web site through acponline.org and specifically the Health & Public Policy subsection. Other Chapters have compiled e-mail addresses of concerned physicians who receive e-mail alerts about urgent needs to contact politicians when issues or votes arise. It is a very efficient way to communicate, and we must do this as well. Please send your address to me at rmmclean@optonline.net

Politicians respond to their local voters, and so we need ACP physicians to help us send letters or call the offices of their local representatives when necessary. The voice of reason in many of these health-related topics - increasingly driven by impact on the bottom line of either a company's profits or of the state's budget - is frequently drowned out by the loudest voices. We physicians cannot sit back. If we do not stand up as "Physicians", we will increasingly lose influence and credibility because we let opportunities to make a difference pass us by - we will merely be thought of as that other "P" word which I think we all have grown to resent, "Providers".