As AAFP Membership Continues to Grow, We Will Consolidate Our Influence

June 01, 2011 05:25 pm "Voices" Staff

If you'll recall, in January, AAFP President Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., of Waco, Texas, announced that the AAFP had hit an all-time membership high of more than 97,000 members. Well, that number has just kept growing, and now membership in the AAFP is at the 100,300 mark, making the Academy the second largest subspecialty physician membership organization in the United States. In fact, we trail only our primary care colleagues in the American College of Physicians. The next largest group is the American College of Surgeons, which has a membership of approximately 70,000.

The membership growth in the Academy is impressive given that many associations are struggling with declining membership.

AAFP members, however, trust the Academy to support them throughout their career, said Goertz in a recent press release. "Family physicians look to the AAFP to advocate on their behalf in the formation of health care policy; to enhance their practices and help them meet their career goals; to provide the latest in quality, innovative medical education; and to promote the health of the American public. A growing membership shows that our organization is working hard to fulfill those needs."

Those increased membership numbers mean increased clout for the Academy. Not only does it help us get our message heard on Capitol Hill -- after all, what congressional representative wants to hear from more than 100,000 angry physicians and medical students? -- it increases our visibility and influence among our professional colleagues. All of this comes at a time when health care in the United States is undergoing some serious changes.

Family medicine needs to be at the forefront of those changes. It is vital for the future of health care in this country that we transform the system to one that is based on a solid foundation of primary care. To get there, we are going to need to have that increased influence in all aspects of health care.

And there is ample evidence that our influence is growing. For example, Goertz was recently invited to testify before a House panel about the Academy's ideas for alternatives to the sustainable growth rate, or SGR, formula which regulates Medicare physician payments. Goertz was one of only two leaders of a subspecialty physician group to testify, and he was the only leader of a primary care association.

In addition, AAFP leaders have been very active in Washington recently, meeting with congressional representatives to discuss ongoing concerns about the health care system. And Academy leaders and members continue to work with government agencies as the rules and regulations of the Affordable Care Act are rolled out. Being able to point to such a large membership means AAFP members are taken seriously as they provide input and guidance that benefits family physicians and their patients.

For example, we were quite vocal in our concerns about the recent regulations proposed by CMS regarding accountable care organizations, or ACOs. Although ACOs have the potential to shift the U.S. health care system from strictly fee-for-service to something that gives equal weight to patient satisfaction and quality of care, as proposed, the regulations put too many barriers in place for physicians to actively participate. In addition, as proposed, the regulations would disenfranchise small and medium-sized practices in favor of large groups, which could lead to more problems than it would solve.

We also have provided resources for AAFP chapters to help them work with state governments as health insurance exchanges are set up in individual states. We have pressed Congress to take into account the need for increased federal investment in educating family physicians as legislators negotiate the federal budget, and we've joined with our physician colleagues from other specialties to demand an end to the broken system of Medicare physician payment.

We've come a long way from our humble beginnings; in 1950, for example, we had only 13,000 members. The growth in membership in the Academy signals that family medicine is a force to be reckoned with. Our issues must be heard, for the good of our patients and U.S. health care in general.

So to reiterate President Goertz's January message: "If you renewed your membership in 2010, thank you for your loyalty and solidarity in supporting the specialty we all love. … If you're a new member, welcome to the Academy, and thank you for supporting family medicine. … Powerful together, we will make a significant difference in the coming months."