Academy Leaders Carry Family Physicians' Message to White House, Capitol Hill

March 05, 2010 01:10 pm James Arvantes Washington –

In the wake of legislation that reversed a cut in Medicare physician payments through March 31, AAFP leaders once again fanned out here to deliver their message about the value and importance of primary care and family medicine to the White House and congressional leaders.

AAFP President-elect Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., left, and other representatives from the medical community listen carefully as President Obama calls on Congress to vote on his health care plan within the next few weeks.

During a series of meetings with administration officials and lawmakers on March 2-3, AAFP President Lori Heim, M.D., of Vass, N.C.; AAFP President-elect Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., of Waco, Texas; AAFP Board Chair Ted Epperly, M.D., of Boise, Idaho; and AAFP EVP Doug Henley, M.D., stressed the importance of family medicine and the patient-centered medical home, or PCMH.

Goertz, who was invited to stand on the podium behind President Obama during a speech in which the president asked Congress to vote on the revised health care proposal, had an opportunity to meet one-on-one with the President. In a subsequent interview with AAFP News Now, Goertz said that he told Obama that family medicine and the medical home are both essential cornerstones of any health care reform plan.

"I appreciate the opportunity we have had to try and influence the health care reform debate," said Goertz. "We have never had that opportunity before, and to be there at the highest level of discussion is what we have worked so hard for."

The AAFP is no longer sitting on the sidelines, said Goertz. "We are an organization trying to advocate for who we are. Family medicine is part of the answer to improving the health care system."

Goertz and the other AAFP leaders also met briefly with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and had a longer meeting with her staff members. According to Heim, they discussed physician payment, the PCMH model, regulation of health information technology and physician training issues.

"It was really a honed message to everybody tailored to their particular programs and very much around the same themes," said Heim. "We drove home the value of primary care and how primary care and family medicine are absolutely essential and central to any health care reform."

Academy leaders also met with Mary Wakefield, R.N., Ph.D., administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA. According to Heim, they discussed various HRSA programs, such as Title VII, Section 747, of the Public Health Service Act, which provides federal support for training family physicians. In addition, said Heim, they discussed the role of community health centers in providing care to the indigent and medically underserved.

AAFP Thanks AMA for Support

During a recent advocacy blitz in Washington, AAFP leaders took the opportunity to meet with AMA leaders to thank them for their support of primary care during the health care reform process.

"We had a very good discussion with them about where we were in synergy with health care reform and their support for the patient-centered medical home," said AAFP President Lori Heim, M.D., of Vass, N.C.

Heim noted that the AAFP also thanked AMA leaders for supporting the primary care payment bonuses contained in the House and Senate health care reform bills.

U.S. Surgeon General and family physician Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., also received a visit from Academy leaders. According to Heim, Benjamin emphasized the Obama administration's commitment to fighting childhood obesity and also acknowledged the important role family physicians will play in the campaign against childhood obesity.

"As a family physician, Dr. Benjamin recognizes the need to not only focus on the child, but also to focus on the whole family," said Heim. "Part of our discussion was how we can work with the surgeon general's office to make sure that we have a message that targets children and also works through the family to get to the children."

As part of additional advocacy efforts, AAFP leaders visited several Capitol Hill offices. They met with Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, and Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho. In addition, they met with staff members from the offices of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. AAFP leaders also met with staff members from the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care reform.

In each meeting, AAFP leaders stressed the importance of making primary care and family medicine a key component of any health care reform plan, and they called for replacing the sustainable growth rate formula. In addition, Heim said the AAFP also emphasized the need for medical malpractice reform.