My family medicine practice in Valdez, Alaska, is a little like the local general store that sells everything from jellybeans to ammunition. We do a lot, including obstetrical care and emergency medical services. Our outpatient clinic is just one component of our practice, and that's fortunate -- because in the midst of a pandemic, our face-to-face clinic appointments are down at least half. If we relied solely on our outpatient clinic, we would soon be out of business.
Like most family medicine clinics, we have embraced telemedicine so we can continue to help our patients while also reducing the risk of exposure for both patients and staff. Although insurers have committed to paying for telemedicine during this crisis, they have been slow to do actually do so.
So, while my own diverse practice is surviving this crisis, we know many primary care practices across the country are in peril. As the pandemic drags on, the real threat of clinics closing mounts. Without action, the outcome could be disastrous not only for our members, but also the patients and communities who count on our care.
Members of Congress need to hear how family physicians and our patients -- their constituents -- are being affected by COVID-19 and the steps that need to be taken to stabilize, strengthen and sustain primary care.
So, what are we going to do about it?
The Family Medicine Advocacy Summit typically brings hundreds of family physicians and medical students to Washington, D.C., every year not only to learn about being an effective advocate, but to put those skills into action on Capitol Hill. The pandemic forced the cancellation of that live event, but rather than forgo that opportunity to speak with our legislators in large numbers, the Academy is thinking even bigger.
In our first virtual week of action, the Academy is calling on Congress to stabilize, strengthen and sustain primary care. We are urging members to amplify that message by posting short videos on your social media channels, tagging your members of Congress (and the Academy), and using the hashtag #StabilizeStrengthenSustain. Without limiting our scope to the number of members who can attend a live, two-day event, our more than 136,000 members can speak to legislators en masse during the course of an entire week, starting June 1.
AAFP officers have already posted videos you can use as examples to drive home our three-part call to action.
Highlighting the first part of our message, President-elect Ada Stewart, M.D., of Columbia, S.C., calls on Congress to stabilize primary care by passing H.R. 6837 and S. 3750, a pair of bills that would reinstate the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment program for Part B providers and improve loan terms. She also declares that Congress should set aside at least $20 billion of provider relief funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act for primary care physicians.
In his video, AAFP President Gary LeRoy, M.D., calls on Congress to strengthen primary care by ensuring that CMS implements scheduled increases for Medicare evaluation and management payments as planned on Jan. 1. He also urges legislators to enact the Kids' Access to Primary Care Act of 2020, which would bring Medicaid payment rates to parity with those of Medicare. LeRoy notes that more than half of his patients in Dayton, Ohio, rely on Medicaid.
And in my video, I highlight the financial strain on our practices and called for prospective payment systems that would better sustain primary care. This could be achieved by expanding, and improving funding for, CMS' upcoming Primary Care First program or adopting the AAFP's Advanced Primary Care Alternative Payment Model.
The AAFP has resources -- detailed talking points and backgrounders for participants, sample tweets and tips for recording video messages optimal for social media -- in its Family Medicine Action Network community.
For members who would prefer to write to their members of Congress, the Academy also has created distinct Speak Out resources that reflect the same three priorities:
Finally, please join us at 8 p.m. ET on June 3 when Reps. Ami Bera, M.D., D-Calif., and Phil Roe, M.D., R-Tenn., are expected to participate in our weekly Virtual Town Hall meeting.
Take action, and make your voice heard.
John Cullen, M.D., is Board chair of the AAFP.