Guest Opinion

FamMedPAC Is Our Catalyst for Effectiveness in Washington

January 05, 2011 06:30 pm Jim King, M.D.

Welcome to 2011 -- a year certain to bring opportunities, as well as challenges, for family medicine's advocacy effort in Washington. For example, the strong Republican presence in the U.S. Congress will give us an opportunity -- finally -- for progress on liability reform. The recently enacted Medicare payment patch will give us breathing room to work for a longer-term solution to the sustainable growth rate, or SGR, formula that has plagued us for so long. With some politicians intent on gutting the health reform law, we'll also have to be vigilant to protect the gains made for primary care in that law.

[James King, M.D., F.A.A.F.P.]

Jim King, M.D., Chair, FamMedPAC Board of Directors

Fortunately, family medicine will have a seat at the table whenever such issues are discussed, thanks in large part to FamMedPAC, the AAFP's federal political action committee.

Think of FamMedPAC as a catalyst -- something that precipitates change. FamMedPAC boosts the effectiveness of AAFP's lobbying efforts on the Hill as well as grassroots efforts by individual Academy members who contact their legislators. In Washington, the fact that family medicine has a PAC shows that we're serious about being involved in the political process -- and the more serious you are, the more attention you get. It's that simple.

How much difference has FamMedPAC made for family medicine? Consider this: In the five years since FamMedPAC was established, Academy representatives in Washington have attended more meetings with congressional and administration leaders, Republican and Democrat, than we did in the previous 10 years. That's an impressive difference.

'It's All About Relationships'

Stephen Albrecht, M.D., of Olympia, Wash., already had cultivated a relationship with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and had donated to her re-election campaigns, but he wanted to do more in 2010 to get Murray re-elected. Albrecht decided to host a fundraiser for Murray -- and he wanted to present her with a check from FamMedPAC at the event.

"I talked to staff at FamMedPAC and the Washington AFP for advice and help," said Albrecht, Washington AFP president and a FamMedPAC contributor. "Then I reached out to FPs in my hometown and others I had met through the WAFP -- people across the political spectrum because Sen. Murray's track record is congruent with the kind of work FamMedPAC wishes all members of Congress would do."

At the event last September, about 25 contributors looked on as Albrecht presented Murray with a generous check from FamMedPAC. Since FamMedPAC had alerted other medical society PACs of the event, representatives from other specialties presented checks to Murray as well.

"Since I live in our state capital, I've had the luxury of ready access to legislators for years, and I've learned that it's all about relationships," Albrecht said. "I think events like this fundraiser help to broaden and deepen the relationships between our legislators and family doctors in our state, and our event certainly put me on Sen. Murray's campaign's radar screen." After the event, he received e-mails from Murray's campaign that he'd never gotten before. He also was invited to be in the audience for one of her televised debates and to an election-night party.

Next May, Albrecht hopes to arrange a substantive meeting with Murray during the AAFP's Family Medicine Congressional Conference in the nation's capitol.

He strongly recommends that family physicians donate to FamMedPAC. "When we combine our dollars together, we magnify the bang for our buck," he said. "I think the board and staff of FamMedPAC make wise contribution decisions and do a good job of looking out for the interests of family medicine politically."

As Washington AFP president, Albrecht is challenging his chapter to move up in the FamMedPAC chapter contribution rankings. "I've got a message for the other chapters," Albrecht said. "Watch out -- here we come!"

Success in the 2010 Election Cycle

Donations to FamMedPAC from members like you have fueled this progress. I'm pleased to report that in the 2010 election cycle, in spite of the anemic economy, FamMedPAC received more than $700,000 in donations from more than 2,000 AAFP members. If you're one of those family physicians -- thank you from the bottom of my heart! With your help, our PAC contributed more than $675,000 to 146 candidates and committees from both political parties. We even helped a successful candidate retire some of his campaign debt.

Each contribution was presented in a face-to-face meeting with the candidate or at an event attended by AAFP representatives. In many cases, an Academy member met locally with the candidate and presented the FamMedPAC check. This personal contact is a great way to begin or to enhance a relationship with a legislator. (See sidebars.)

FamMedPAC pools together the donations of many family physicians, so we were able to attend a number of 2010 campaign events that would have been too costly for any one of us to afford. A good example is the National Republican Congressional Committee event that I attended in my home state of Tennessee. I presented FamMedPAC's contribution in a room full of Republican leaders who will be key decision makers in Washington this year, as well as some first-time candidates from Tennessee. I talked with several of them about family medicine. Four of those Tennessee candidates won election, and thanks to that event, I've already started building relationships with them.

In all, 74 percent of the candidates who received FamMedPAC support won election, a better percentage than those attained by many other PACs in the health care field. Several of the winners are first-timers like the ones from Tennessee. We're in on the ground floor with them and can educate them about family medicine's key role in health care and why they should work with us. We've positioned ourselves well for working with the new Congress.

Maintaining Our Momentum

Now that the election of 2010 is history, we must turn our attention to the new election cycle that has begun. November 2012 may be months away, but campaigns for congressional seats and the presidency will heat up soon.

'Become That Trusted Voice in Their Ear'

Sometimes when you build a relationship with a legislator, it pays unexpected dividends. That's exactly what happened after Elizabeth Steiner, M.D., of Portland, Ore., had nurtured a relationship with Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., over the years.

Steiner, the Oregon AFP's president-elect and a FamMedPAC contributor, was having breakfast with Blumenauer one day, chatting about a range of issues. When she mentioned that Oregon AFP had just started a state PAC, Blumenauer surprised her by volunteering to do a fundraiser for it. And after he did a small fundraiser, he volunteered to do a larger one.

"We have a very symbiotic relationship with Rep. Blumenauer," said Steiner. "He understands that we focus on what's best for patients, not just for physicians. He's a strong supporter of primary care and what's right for patients, so he's glad to help us raise funds, too."

Steiner presented Blumenauer with another FamMedPAC check during his fundraiser for the chapter PAC. "I was deeply touched when I presented that check," she said. "Here was our federal PAC in action, supporting someone who's strongly supporting us."

To Steiner, relationships with legislators grow the same way that continuity of care does with patients. "Both types of relationship develop after we have seen them time and time again," she said. "We go through some of our patients' life cycle events. The political life cycle is shorter, but we have to be there with our legislators, too.

"If you become that trusted voice in their ear, you can make an enormous difference. Think about it -- if all AAFP members had coffee with their legislators on a regular basis, imagine what we could do for health care in our nation."

Steiner also encourages members to donate to FamMedPAC and, if one exists, to their chapter PAC. "Most states have an income tax credit for political donations, so why not give to get that credit?" she said.

She's the Oregon AFP's "champion" for FamMedPAC, working to grow the number of Oregon AFP members who donate. When she heard the FamMedPAC donation challenge issued by her "neighbor to the north," Stephen Albrecht, M.D., of the Washington AFP (see sidebar above), Steiner was quick to respond. "Just bring it, Steve!" she said with a grin. "We're happy to take on that challenge!"

We need to be ready to contribute to candidates who are likely to help family medicine and the patients we serve. We also will contribute to both the Republican and the Democratic presidential campaign committees, as we did for the 2008 campaign. Doing so will enable us to have a presence again at the presidential conventions, sharing family medicine's perspective with the movers and shakers of both political parties.

If you've never donated to FamMedPAC, I urge you to begin now. If you have donated in the past, please keep it up. Think of your donation as your political insurance premium. It's easy to donate online -- visit FamMedPAC's website (Members Only) and click on "Donate Now!" You also can learn more about FamMedPAC at the website, including information on how we choose candidates to support.

Once you've donated, wear your FamMedPAC pin and, when your colleagues ask about it, urge them to donate, too. Tell them the specialty needs a well-funded PAC as we go head to head with powerful groups in the next two years -- including the trial lawyers, who will be out in force to derail liability reform. Furthermore, a strong FamMedPAC is more important than ever given the recent Supreme Court decision to allow campaign contributions from corporations.

I'll close with this final thought: If every AAFP member donated just $100 annually to FamMedPAC, we'd have the largest health care PAC in the nation. Think about how effective we could be if that were our reality. Together, we can make it happen.