Physician Advocacy

To succeed as a physician advocate, share your story


Today’s political climate may be unlike anything the seasoned physician advocates who gathered in Washington, D.C., for the recent AMA National Advocacy Conference have ever experienced. But the fundamentals of promoting the interests of their patients and profession remain the same: Use facts and personal stories while building relationships and serving as a resource.

Tell a local story about how regulations or legislation are affecting your patients and their constituents, Richard Deem, AMA senior vice president for advocacy, told the 400-plus attendees at the start of conference.

Deem was followed by Cynthia Brown, AMA vice president of government affairs, who added that one of the fundamentals to promoting an advocacy agenda is building long-term relationships with legislators and connecting with their staff members.

The packet all attendees received contained a very recent example of how to do this.

Vote provides current events lesson

Attendees received a copy of the AMA’s letter to Congressional leaders supporting the recently approved Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, a summary of AMA-supported provisions in the bill, and a listing of who voted for and against it. Advocates were urged to send thank-you emails to their legislators who supported the measure.

T.C. Roberge, AMA senior assistant director for Congressional affairs, noted that it’s important to show gratitude and that it  helps you develop relationships with lawmakers if you are not always going to Capitol Hill with “an urgent ask.”

AMA-supported Items in the budget bill improvements to the Medicare Access an CHIP Reauthorization Act off 2015 and repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

What the budget deal did not include was a previous proposal to extend the misvalued codes policy that would have virtually eliminated the 2019 Medicare physician payment update and could have led to a payment decrease in 2020. 

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What physicians need to know about how to reach lawmakers

Deem said that, in less than 24 hours, Congress had received 3,000 emails protesting that proposal. He added that physicians in Congress went to their respective leaders and were “able to turn this thing around.”

Jason Marino, AMA senior assistant director for Congressional affairs, later gave attendees the behind-the-scenes scoop of how AMA lobbyists caught wind of the proposal at a Feb. 3 charity event and had to swing into action and grab lawmakers’ attention over Super Bowl weekend. He emphasized the importance of those 3,000 emails in making Representatives and Senators pay attention to concerns over an “obscure” policy like misvalued codes.

Like Deem, Marino also credited the physicians in Congress for telling their leaders that MACRA cannot work if they take away its modest Medicare payment updates.

With such a recent and significant example of the power of physician advocacy, the message delivered by Vidya Kora, MD, board chair of AMPAC, the AMA political action committee, resonated with attendees.

“If medicine is our profession, politics is our business,” Dr. Kora said.

Advocacy has public health impact

Attendees noted how advocacy has become an extension of their practices. It also allows them to have a larger impact on the health of their communities and the nation as a whole.

“I always wanted to be a doctor,” said Hilary Fairbrother, MD. She never lost that desire, but her career objectives changed after getting involved in AMA advocacy efforts as a medical student, she said. Dr. Fairbrother chose to pursue a career as an emergency medicine physician with a public health focus.

Dr. Fairbrother said being an advocate for patients and physicians aligns with her goal of promoting public health—and with her personality. Health care has a lot of problems, she said, but just complaining about them doesn’t help.

“I’m a doer; I like to be part of the solution,” she said. And she added that as the nation debates health system reform and how best to advance public health, “the AMA has a seat at the table for all these discussions.”

Noel Deep, MD, president of the Wisconsin Medical Society and an internist at a 25-bed critical-access hospital, agreed. He said seeing patients in his office “is not the end” of his professional responsibilities.

“We need to be advocates for our profession and our patients,” Dr. Deep said. “That’s why we became physicians.”