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On Capitol Hill, ACP Members Share Insights, Concerns About Health Care Issues
In Leadership Day meetings with legislators, members build relationships and advocate for ACP priorities
When members of the American College of Physicians converged on Washington, D.C., for ACP's annual Leadership Day, they brought a simple message to the nation's leaders about some very complex topics: Our work -- and your work -- is not done.
"Hundreds of doctors took time out of their busy schedules in order to talk to members of Congress about things that are important," said Dr. Frederick E. Turton, former chair of the ACP Board of Regents and medical director of general internal medicine at Emory University Hospital Midtown, in Atlanta. "These physicians were willing to develop relationships, keep making friends and work for the future."
ACP estimates that its members held 400 meetings with members of Congress and congressional staffers on May 21. ACP members came from 44 states and the District of Columbia to participate in the annual Leadership Day events.
"The feedback from our members thus far has largely been positive in terms of lawmakers' overall reaction to our priorities, although we realize budget constraints in Congress do present challenges," said Jonni McCrann, senior manager of legislative affairs and executive vice president of ACP Services.
In particular, she said, lawmakers paid close attention and were often supportive when ACP members described the havoc that would occur if the Medicare Primary Care Incentive Program ends at the end of this year, forcing a 10 percent cut in payments for internists, family physicians and geriatricians.
However, "we still face challenges in getting the program extended because many lawmakers are intent on understanding if the program is worthy of extension, in terms of demonstrated effectiveness," McCrann said. "They also want to know how much it would cost the federal government. We continue to provide feedback to congressional offices on those points."
Other priorities include reinstatement of Medicare-Medicaid pay parity for primary care and immunization services and adequate funding for key primary care workforce programs, including the National Health Service Corps, the Title VII Health Professions Program and Graduate Medical Education.
Turton said that some lawmakers whom members met with were still focused on the recent resolution of the long-running Sustainable Growth Rate issue and wondered, "What are you back for?" His Georgia team also faced special challenges as they talked to all the state's representatives and both senators.
"We're a redder-than-red state, and dancing around the Affordable Care Act is difficult to do, but necessary," he said. "We learned a long time ago to frame our arguments based on our audience. You have one message for Republicans and another for Democrats."
In regard to supporting incentives for primary care, he said, it's wise to talk to Republicans about the effects of cuts and why they matter to constituents, while focusing on strategy with Democrats.
Dr. Robert A. Gluckman, ACP's treasurer and chief medical officer for Providence Health Plans in Beaverton, Ore., encountered a different reception when his team met with his state's congressional delegation. With one exception, they're all Democrats.
"We're dealing with a friendly crowd when we're talking about health care funding and preserving access for the poor and vulnerable, trying to support primary care specialties," he said.
Even so, Gluckman said, lawmakers and staff members were reluctant to make commitments because the ACA remains tied up at the Supreme Court. And funding, of course, is another issue.
"People are receptive to the concepts, but finding new money is pretty tight," he said.
Regardless of the political persuasion of those on Capitol Hill, Turton said, Leadership Day participants "keep making friends, we build relationships, we inform them of the issues."
As McCrann said: "What is most challenging in advocating before lawmakers, in my experience both as a lobbyist and a former congressional staffer, is simply finding a way to have the issue at hand resonate, either on a professional or personal level, with the lawmaker so that he or she will want to act."
Making that connection is "critical to being an effective advocate with members of Congress," she said, "and that is why we hold Leadership Day every year, and why we take the time to walk through all these issues with our members."
More on Leadership Day, including a video, is available on the ACP website.