Immunizations Get Top Billing in Meeting With Surgeon General

AAFP Leaders Discuss Care Access With Administration Health Official

March 02, 2015 03:34 pm Michael Laff Washington, D.C. –

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., center, speaks about his public health initiatives with AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., right, and Board Chair Reid Blackwelder, M.D., at left. Murthy met last week with the Academy's Board of Directors.

Two senior federal officials met with AAFP Board members recently to discuss public health awareness and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- two top issues for primary care physicians.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., and Jeanne Lambrew, Ph.D., President Obama's deputy assistant for health policy, spoke with the Board last week.

It was the third time AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., had met with Murthy, who also spoke informally to Board members when he was a candidate for the post.

"We're building upon an early relationship we had with him," Wergin said. "His priorities are health of the public and coordination of public health services. We have the resources to align with his priorities."

Since being confirmed in December, Murthy has focused on immunizations, childhood obesity, substance abuse and mental health.

"His main message was educating the public about the importance of vaccinations," Wergin said of last week's meeting.

Story highlights
  • AAFP Board members met with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., to discuss immunization and other major public health initiatives.
  • The Board also spoke with Jeanne Lambrew, Ph.D, President Obama's deputy assistant for health policy, about expanding access to medical care.
  • Lambrew listened to the Board's concerns about electronic health records and performance measurements used by insurers.

Unfortunately, Wergin continued, he encounters young patients who are not immunized because the children's parents misperceive vaccinations as potentially harmful or not necessary.

Noting that his own uncle died at age 4 from measles at a time when no vaccine was available, Wergin said that because diseases such as measles and mumps can now be prevented with appropriate vaccinations, physicians need to emphasize their value to skeptical patients.

Moreover, it's important that public health campaigns about the importance of vaccinations focus not just on children, Wergin added, because adults who receive stem cell or bone marrow transplants need to start over with their immunizations.

Murthy told the Board he recognizes how family physicians carry significant influence with parents of young children and how they can monitor diet and exercise habits.

"He recognizes us as educators and public health advocates because we are practicing throughout the U.S.," Wergin said. "The majority of us who practice in rural areas and even members who practice in urban areas carry influence over children's behavior and interact with local school systems."

In her meeting with Board members, Lambrew discussed ongoing efforts to expand Medicaid in all 50 states, as well as general issues associated with implementing the ACA. Despite the availability of full federal assistance for Medicaid expansion, it has taken five years to encourage many states that initially rejected the offer to acknowledge the public health need.

Jeanne Lambrew, Ph.D., President Obama's deputy assistant for health policy, greets Academy EVP and CEO Douglas Henley, M.D., as AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., left, looks on.

"She seemed to be very supportive of the Academy," said AAFP President-elect Wanda Filer, M.D., M.B.A., of York, Pa. "We have a long track record of supporting health care coverage for all."

Lambrew does not typically meet with medical organizations, so the visit offered the AAFP a rare opportunity to liaison with her office. She told the Board that health care coverage for low-income individuals should be a national priority but said it has been a struggle to obtain consensus on the issue. Board members asked her how to build support for greater access to medical care.

"She said our stories and our visits to Congress are more important," Filer said. "That is a clarion call to our members to go to their legislators' offices, advocate and talk to them about what we are struggling with."

During the discussion, Board members talked about the difficulty physicians have with inconsistent performance measures required by multiple insurance carriers that they contract with, Filer noted.

Lambrew talked about the potential for "administrative simplification" that would help make the use of performance measures consistent across multiple carriers.

"We're subject to 20 different masters," Filer said. "She was open to the idea of streamlining the process with performance measures."

Although Lambrew could not promise to make changes to meaningful use standards because only Congress can change the law on electronic health records, Filer appreciated her willingness to listen.

"We're captive to our vendors," Filer said. "The penalties are punishing the wrong people. But it sounded like there is more willingness to hold vendors' feet to the fire."