Message From the Board Chair

August Recess Offers Unique Opportunity for FPs to Advocate With Federal Lawmakers

July 30, 2014 09:05 pm Jeff Cain, M.D.

The 113th Congress of the United States could go down as one of the least productive in our nation's history. By mid-July, legislators had passed only 126 laws -- 18 fewer than the infamously gridlocked 112th Congress had passed by the same time a year earlier.

AAFP staff and Academy leaders, including Board Chair Jeff Cain, M.D., advocate for family medicine in Washington. During the August recess, make a difference by meeting with your senators and representatives while they're back home in your state.

The numbers won't get better anytime soon because Congress will be in recess for the entire month of August. That means there won't be any progress made in Washington about repealing the sustainable growth rate formula (SGR), which once again threatens to cut physician Medicare payments if Congress doesn't act by March 31.

But although not much will get done on Capitol Hill next month, we can do something in our own states and communities. Legislators are headed home for the district work period with historically low approval ratings. According to Gallup, only 15 percent of voters approve of the job Congress is doing, and only 7 percent have confidence in our legislative branch overall.

Given such meager numbers, perhaps this will prove to be a time when legislators will actually listen to their constituents. And when it comes to health care, there is no one more qualified to let them know how health policy is affecting patients and practices than family physicians.

Every day, staff in the AAFP's Division of Government Relations work on your behalf in Washington. Now we ask for your help in finishing off the flawed SGR once and for all.

The AAFP has created an online toolkit that brings together many important advocacy resources, including tips on how to prepare for a meeting with your senators and representative (or their staff members) and how to make the most of the opportunity. The Academy can even help you schedule an appointment.

The Academy has also developed a summary that recaps the pertinent facts regarding the SGR:

  • Congress has patched the SGR 17 times in the past 11 years at a cost of roughly $174 billion -- more than the estimated cost of a permanent fix.
  • If Congress fails to act before the current extension expires on March 31, physicians would face a 21 percent reduction in Medicare payments.
  • Bipartisan, bicameral SGR-replacement legislation was approved earlier this year by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee, meaning Congress has never been closer to finally fixing the recurring SGR problem.

For those of you who can't meet individually with your legislators but still would like to get involved, make your voice heard by writing to your representatives or senators. The AAFP has tools to help with that, too.

Enough is enough. Whether in person or online, let your legislators know that short-term patches to the SGR and the constant threat of deep cuts in Medicare payments put pressure on physician practices that threatens patients' access to care.

Jeff Cain, M.D., is the board chair of the AAFP.