Doctors lobby for health care reform on Leadership Day

Every spring, contingents of ACP members from around the country converge on Capitol Hill for Leadership Day.

Every spring, contingents of ACP members from around the country converge on Capitol Hill for Leadership Day, a chance for physicians to meet face-to-face with lawmakers about the College's legislative priorities. The event is expected to have record-breaking attendance this year because it coincides with Internal Medicine 2008 in May.

The timing of Leadership Day (on May 13 and 14) also places it just six weeks before another important date for internists, July 1. That is when a 10.6% cut in Medicare reimbursement will go into effect unless Congress takes action to stop it.

“Other years we've been lobbying in an environment where we're looking at a cut for the following January. This is the first time in a long time that we've had to deal with a mid-year cut and a bigger cut than ever before,” said Robert B. Doherty, ACP's Senior Vice President for Governmental Affairs and Public Policy.

“By Leadership Day, there should be some pending legislation to halt the cut that attendees can urge their representatives to support,” said Mr. Doherty. “We're hard at work lobbying Congress to get a bill introduced between now and Leadership Day that will not only stop the cuts but also make other improvements in Medicare payments to internists,” he added.

During Leadership Day 2007 US Rep Pete Stark D-CA greeted Brindusa Truta ACP Associate Member of Phoenix while Donald C Balfour III FACP of San Diego looked on
During Leadership Day 2007, U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) greeted Brindusa Truta, ACP Associate Member, of Phoenix, while Donald C. Balfour, III, FACP, of San Diego looked on.

Potential topics include reforming medical education to expose students to mentoring early in their education, changing Medicare payments to support the patient-centered medical home and care coordination, and instituting debt forgiveness for medical graduates who go into general internal medicine.

Access to care also will be a prime topic for discussion between the physicians and their representatives. “We will use Leadership Day as a way to engage members of Congress in a discussion about broader health care reform,” said Mr. Doherty.

As an election year in which the presidency, the entire House and one-third of the Senate hang in the balance, 2008 is unlikely to result in comprehensive health care reform, but it is still important to bring the issue up, Mr. Doherty said. “Even though the effort may not result in major legislation this year, many of these people will be back next year with a new administration in the White House and they'll have to figure out where they stand on issues like health coverage for all.”

As representatives of the New York ACP Chapter, Alwin F. Steinmann, FACP, and his colleagues may have a particular opportunity to make suggestions for future policy. “Particularly when we meet with somebody from Sen. Clinton's office we'll be talking about broad issues of health care as they pertain to the national agenda. We'll talk about universal coverage,” said Dr. Steinmann.

Along with California, Florida and Texas, the New York Chapter is generally one of the better represented at Leadership Day, but this year organizers are expecting high attendance from around the country. For the first time, representatives of every ACP chapter in the U.S. are scheduled to attend, according to Shuan Tomlinson, ACP's state health policy coordinator. Last year, 303 College members from 43 states and the District of Columbia participated.

Another new aspect this year is that attendees will not need to make their own appointments for meetings with members of Congress. A consultant will pair those who are new to Leadership Day with experienced attendees so that they can learn the ropes and stay focused on the College's message, Ms. Tomlinson said.

The Florida Chapter, for one, is looking forward to the new blood. As a state with a strong advocacy program, they typically bring the largest number of attendees to Leadership Day, enough to visit every one of Florida's representatives. “We're hoping that this opportunity will boost other chapters' efforts to become more involved in Leadership Day and engaged in the legislative process in the future,” said Stuart B. Himmelstein, FACP, governor-elect for the Florida chapter.

With Internal Medicine 2008 taking place just down the street from Capitol Hill, meeting attendees will have a unique opportunity to get a glimpse at the process of ACP advocacy. “It's going to open a whole lot of other people's eyes to it. While they're in the neighborhood, they'll look at what's going on,” said Dr. Himmelstein.

Meeting attendees who want to get involved in Leadership Day should move fast, however. There is a maximum of 500 attendees and spots are filling up earlier than usual, said Ms. Tomlinson. Those who are interested can register online.