Federal Advocacy

Amid political divisions, physicians unify to protect patients

Kevin B. O'Reilly , Senior News Editor

For the first time since the pandemic’s onset, hundreds of physicians, medical society staffers and others met in person in a bitterly divided Washington, D.C., for the AMA National Advocacy Conference.

You are why we fight

The AMA is your powerful ally, focused on addressing the issues important to you, so you can focus on what matters most—patients.

This year’s legislative and regulatory priorities are crystal clear, driven by the urgent need to protect patients’ access to high-quality care and help physicians who have put so much on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians is rebuilding critical components of the medical profession by:

“Everything is very politicized right now and ... there's so much division in Washington, and in our country,” AMA Senior Vice President of Advocacy Todd Askew said in an episode of “AMA Update” filmed on site at the conference.

“That's just magnified here in D.C.,” Askew noted. “But these issues that we're talking about ... there's strong bipartisan support for every single one of them. Regardless of the political divisions, everybody agrees that the Medicare program should be financially stable and that physicians should be able to afford to care for those patients. Everybody agrees that physicians should not spend hours, and hours and hours and their staff spend hours, and hours and hours filling out unnecessary paperwork to get people authorization for benefits that they already paid for.

“We want to make sure that people have access to quality” physicians and other health professionals, Askew added. “We want to make sure that physicians can basically maintain their own wellness so that they can continue to care for the country. So while there is a lot of division on a lot of issues and a lot of issues in health care, the things we're mainly talking ... have very strong bipartisan support.”

Visit AMA Advocacy in Action to learn about other advocacy priorities the AMA is actively working on.

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The bipartisan nature of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians was reflected in the speaking docket for the conference. Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall, MD, an ob-gyn, told the physicians and others gathered why he has co-sponsored the “Improving Seniors’ Timely Access to Care Act” to fix prior-authorization burdens in Medicare Advantage.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, addressed priorities such as the need to ensure that Medicare physician payment keeps pace with inflation and that financial incentives for alternative payment models continue (PDF).

During their visit to the nation’s capital, physicians and others attending the conference paid visits to their representatives’ congressional offices and made use of an AMA action kit (PDF) with key facts to support their advocacy on:

Also at the conference, these physicians and others were honored with the AMA Outstanding Government Service Award:

  • Alisha R. Bell, chair of the Wayne County Commission in Michigan, for providing critical leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, fueling vaccination and testing rates that exceeded.
  • Former U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas for his work on issues critical to patients and physicians, alike, particularly his leadership on surprise medical bills and prior-authorization reform.
  • Rahul Gupta, MD, MPH, the first physician to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
  • Debra Houry, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whose expertise and dedication helped increase the number of jurisdictions that are live with RxCheck, a prescription drug-monitoring program, from eight in 2019 to 50 in 2022.
  • Wendell Primus, PhD, former senior policy advisor on budget and health issues to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was lead staffer during the development of the Affordable Care Act and played a significant role in advancing legislation to repeal the deeply flawed sustainable growth rate formula in 2015. 
  • South Carolina Sen. Thomas Alexander, president of the State Senate and leader of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee who champions telehealth and rural health care access, and has been a strong proponent of behavioral health access, particularly in elementary and middle school settings.

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The power of patients’ stories to change policy cannot be overstated, Askew said.

“When a physician goes up to a member—to their member of Congress—and explains to them the challenges they face in delivering health care in their community to their constituents, and can give real-world examples of how some of these barriers, prior authorization is a great example, are getting in the way of trying to provide care for people in their hometown, in their communities, that resonates.”

Through their patients’ stories, physicians “can make the connection to that challenge that they faced with, here's a solution and here's how you can keep other people from having to deal with that—that's really powerful,” Askew said. “And that's what motivates Congress to make change.”

No one is more qualified to help guide members of Congress as they create, debate and enact health care legislation than those who deliver quality care to patients every day. The Physicians Grassroots Network connects physicians from across the country and empowers them to advocate for smarter solutions to our nation’s health care challenges.

AMA Update” covers health care topics affecting the lives of physicians and patients. Hear from physicians and experts on public health, advocacy issues, scope of practice and more—because who’s doing the talking matters. You can catch every episode by subscribing to the AMA’s YouTube channel or the audio-only podcast version, which also features educational presentations and in-depth discussions.