2017 Family Medicine Advocacy Summit

Family Physicians Make Their Case in Capitol Hill Visits

May 30, 2017 02:52 pm Michael Laff Washington, D.C. –

If there ever was a time for family medicine's voice to be heard on Capitol Hill, this is the year.

Karen Smith, M.D., speaking with Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C.

Karen Smith, M.D., the AAFP's 2017 Family Physician of the Year, speaks with Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., during the 2017 Family Medicine Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C.

So family physicians, medical students and chapter staff learned how to speak out effectively at the 2017 Family Medicine Advocacy Summit and then immediately put what they learned to work in visits with numerous members of Congress during a full day of advocacy on May 23.

Among them was Karen Smith, M.D., of Raeford, N.C., the AAFP's 2017 Family Physician of the Year, who met legislators as a member of the North Carolina AFP delegation. The delegation made a strong case and despite pressure to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Smith left the meetings believing that legislators are open to the views of their constituents.

"The AHCA was a year in development, but based upon what I heard from legislators I don't believe any of them are convinced at this stage that it will address the needs of patients, so it will take more time," Smith told AAFP News.

Story Highlights
  • Family physicians, medical students and chapter staff met with legislators after learning how to speak out effectively at the 2017 Family Medicine Advocacy Summit.
  • Messages about regulatory reform and decreasing administrative burdens resonated well with legislators and their staffs.
  • State delegations said lawmakers were eager to hear from constituents.

Smith said a report(www.cbo.gov) from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that detailed how many individuals would lose insurance coverage under the AHCA carried a lot of weight, even among legislators who supported the bill.

"While they voted for it, they also recognize it is an incomplete solution," Smith said. "And they are getting heat from constituents that this is clearly not the solution that will address the problem, nor is it what people are asking for."

To prepare for meetings with legislators or their staffs, Smith said it is important for family physicians to know what their own local patient population needs are. In addition, the AAFP has compiled information on important pending issues that physicians can use for advocacy, as well as lobbying tips and talking points.

Smith offered her own valuable advice to colleagues who are involved with or who plan to join advocacy efforts: In a fiercely partisan world, remember that you are not running for office.

"Whoever is in the White House, as family physicians we advocate for health care for all," she said.

Mott Blair, M.D., of Wallace, N.C., an AAFP Board member who also was part of his state delegation, met with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and 13 House members. He told AAFP News that lawmakers were eager to hear from constituents.

"There is a lot of nervousness about health care issues and in the Senate they realize it is important to get it right, so this is the time to be very vocal about our issues," he said. "We heard from House staff members who told us, 'You need to speak out on this right now.'"

Blair said family physicians' messages about regulatory reform and decreasing administrative burdens resonated well with legislators and their staffs. The delegation was even able to educate a House staff member who had only been on the job for two weeks about issues important to family medicine.

Blair said it is helpful to thank lawmakers and their staffs for taking the time to meet. He thanked all of them on social media, and one lawmaker retweeted the message.

"Family physicians understand intuitively that it's often about building relationships as you move forward," Blair said. "We don't always get what we ask for, but the opportunity to talk and share our views is invaluable."

Members of the Illinois delegation devoted much of their meetings with legislators discussing potential cuts to Medicaid because a quarter of the adults in their state depend on the program for health care coverage.

This year marked the second time Jessica Reader, M.D., of Chicago, visited the Hill as an Illinois AFP member. Now a third-year medical resident, she made the previous visit as an intern. This year those in the Illinois delegation met with both of their senators and all 18 of their House members.

"They are very interested in what we have to say, and our input is well received," Reader told AAFP News.

She said both Illinois senators agreed with the delegation about the need to maintain access to health care and the value of Medicaid expansion.

"It's helpful for members of Congress to know about personal stories because they can use them when they are persuading others and when they are writing legislation," she said.

Reader had her own personal story: She works in a teaching health center as part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which would be eliminated under President Trump's proposed 2018 federal budget. She is carrying $500,000 in debt but the program will enable her to meet all her obligations if she makes required payments over 10 years and continues to work full-time for a qualifying employer.

"Most medical students that I know are dependent on those programs to help pay their loans off, and we talked about their impact," she said.

It is important that as legislators consider the budget, they understand that ending the loan forgiveness program will make it more difficult to attract primary care physicians to work in rural and underserved areas. In addition, the Illinois delegation spoke with a House member who was unfamiliar with teaching health centers and informed him about the role they play in expanding access to health care.

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Analysts Urge Family Physicians to Speak Up on Health Legislation