AAFP leaders came to Capitol Hill recently to protect family medicine and primary care programs as House and Senate legislators continue to spar over health care priorities.
AAFP Board Chair John Meigs, M.D., left, sits down with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., during a recent trip to Capitol Hill. Meigs and other AAFP leaders met with Gottheimer and several legislative staff members Oct. 4-5.
AAFP President Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kan.; Board Chair John Meigs, M.D., of Centreville, Ala.; President-elect John Cullen, M.D., of Valdez, Alaska; and CEO and EVP Douglas Henley, M.D., met with one House member and several House and Senate staff members to discuss major issues Oct 4-5.
They sat down with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and with staff members in the offices of Alaska's two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, in addition to House staff working for Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Don Young, R-Alaska. Gottheimer and Reed are co-chairs of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which is working on bipartisan health care legislation.
Among the AAFP's list of messages was the fact that many patients with high-deductible insurance plans hesitate to visit their family physician because nonemergency visits are not adequately covered. Munger asked legislators to consider action to exclude primary care visits from a patient's deductible in commercial plans.
Munger told House staff members that if patients could see their primary care physician as needed without worrying about a deductible, overall health costs would go down. Under the current system, many patients delay care, or go to urgent care centers or emergency rooms in lieu of scheduling an office visit.
"It is one of many ideas that were suggested," Munger said. "There was interest and understanding about the role of primary care in helping to reduce costs and improve quality. We are being heard."
Two other priorities are funding the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), both of which facilitate training family physicians to work in underserved areas. Funding for both programs was set to expire on Sept. 30. Although Congress failed to act on the NHSC by that date, the THCGME program received a patch of extended funding for 90 days. Munger emphasized that the continued cycle of funding the THCGME program every two years makes it difficult to recruit residents.
"We need to continue advocating to make sure funding for THCs is not only stable and permanent, but that the program is expanded," Munger said.
AAFP leaders also asked for a five-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Funding for that program also expired Sept. 30, and patients who rely on CHIP have already started to feel the impact of uncertainty over when the money will run out. Congress is expected to pass some form of extension before states exhaust their funding.
"It's going to happen," Munger said. "There was universal support for the program. It's not a matter of if, it's a question of how long the program will be funded."
One change from previous visits with legislators is that bipartisan cooperation on improving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is now a possibility. Both House and Senate staff members acknowledged that recent partisan fighting over the law had been unproductive.
Munger said regular visits by family physicians to the Capitol are essential.
"This is a long game," Munger said. "We have to keep a consistent message, deliver that message over and over again, and answer any questions they have."
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