By Hal C. Scherz, MD
Recently, I returned to Washington DC for the 11th time in two years, with a group of doctors from Docs 4 Patient Care. It was a very busy week in DC. As always, there were groups from around the country who came to Congress to advocate for their interests, including a large group of orthopedic surgeons. The most pressing issue that week was an impending government shutdown over the budget. You can imagine how distracted the Congressmen and Senators were with this potential disaster looming.
In spite of this, we had no trouble getting in to see the elected officials or the legislative healthcare teams on our list. In fact, we had so many appointments, that we had to divide our team of 10 people into 4 groups at times. The highlight of our visit was a 30 minute session with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, in his office. No one else had the success that we had getting to speak with elected officials, especially Mr. Boehner.
Why did we have such easy accessibility?
Because we are different from other organizations and they know this. Groups regularly come to Washington with their hands out, asking for something. In contrast, we came to Congress offering something. We offered to them our help, our time, expertise, and resources. We did not send lobbyists to Congress to “soften them up”. We came ourselves, acting on our own behalf, as we have on prior trips to DC, as an initiative that we call “House Calls on Congress”. We believe that it is far better to have personal relationships with members of Congress, and offer help in understanding complex medical issues which are difficult to fully grasp, than to delegate this role to others.
We came with several messages. Most importantly, we wanted them to know that we can and are willing to help them. We wanted them to know that their healthcare message fails to stir the emotions necessary to rouse people to act. They heard from us about the resources that we have developed and made available to them so that they and their staffs could better understand complex healthcare matters which we instinctively know and take for granted.
It was important to make them understand that it was not enough to keep saying repeal, without a clear plan to replace. We have such a plan and shared it with them. One of our objectives was to make them understand that the only way that they can hope to develop a plan that will make sense and be successful, was to bring doctors into the process- those of us who see patients daily and get our hands dirty, and stay up all night- not medical bureaucrats or ivory tower academicians who have not laid hands on a patient in decades.
Finally, we wanted them to realize that we have a tremendous amount of influence amongst our patients; the electorate in this country. We shared stories about our experiences during the 2010 elections in which we helped get candidates elected to Congress. We are stronger and better organized for 2012 and will have much more success next time.
Much to our amazement, the people that we spoke with, including Speaker Boehner, were already aware of these points that we came there to make, especially the last one about elections. What was just as surprising was the ease with which we got into see everyone and how well we were received. Only afterward was it clear why this was the case.
We heard from most of the Congressmen and Senators that they need to hear from doctors and that they would like to see an organization of doctors that truly represents us and our patients. They appreciate when doctors come to Washington because they understand that we are sacrificing quite a lot to be there. They know that the AMA has failed to do its job, and that specialty societies have a limited focus and narrow interests. We believe that Docs 4 Patient Care can fill this void and we believe that they do too.
These exchanges gave us hope for the future. Although there is a healthcare law that looms large and is shaking things up, everyone in Washington is unsettled. The fight is far from over, but the only way to get rid of this law which will have profound and negatives effects on patients and doctors is to change control of the Senate and White House. Only then is there a chance that we can throw this law out before it is too late. With the help of people like those who came to Washington with me, we can help to create and implement a plan that makes sense for the majority of Americans without destroying everything which is great about the American Healthcare system.
Dr. Scherz is the Founder and President/CEO of Docs 4 Patient Care (www.docs4patientcare.org).