By Carolyn Rogers
The Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC) welcomed two influential speakers to its luncheon on Wednesday, March 10: Alex Vogel, chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader William Frist, MD (R-Tenn.) and former U.S. Rep. Tom Coburn, MD (R-Okla.).
Addressing a crowd of approximately 150 current and past members of the Board of Councilors and PAC contributors, both speakers offered insight into the critical legislative issues facing physicians, including the future of Medicare and the need for medical liability reform.
Tort reform and medical liability reform are high on Senator Frist's priority list, Vogel said. “You've got the votes on our side of the aisle,” he said. “Changing the votes on the opposing side is the key.”
Alex Vogel, Chief Counsel to Senate Majority Leader William Frist, MD
Tom Coburn, MD, Former U.S. Congressman
The story that will move people currently opposed to reform isn't, “I'm a doctor and my insurance premiums are too high,” he said.
Legislators will listen, however, when patients' access to health care is affected.
“When a doctor tells his legislator that he was forced to limit his practice due to skyrocketing insurance costs, and a patient says that, as a result, she had to drive three hours to find an ob-gyn to deliver her baby because she happens to live in a rural area —that's an intolerable situation,” Vogel said. “That kind of pressure is going to make medical liability reform reality.”
“Come to Washington, or get in touch with your representatives back home, and let them know these problems are real,” Vogel said in response to a question about what orthopaedists can do to help pass legislation.
“And when they tell you, ‘Hey, we're with you on this,' insist that they be specific,” he said. “Say, ‘I want you to tell me that you will vote “aye” on medical liability reform.'
Tell them that you will remember, that you will come back. Hold these people politically accountable.”
Streamline the system
Dr. Coburn, who had announced his candidacy for the Oklahoma U.S. Senate seat just the week before, said Congress “lacks effective leadership to control spending” and that it must have the courage to address long-term funding of Social Security and Medicare.
“Nothing makes me more angry than what's happening to our profession today,” said Dr. Coburn, a practicing physician from Muskogee, Okla., who served three terms in the U.S. House before retiring in 2001 to honor a term-limits pledge.
“The United States spends $1.7 trillion to $1.8 trillion on health care each year —$500 billion of which does not go to enhancing the health of our patients,” he said. He credits much of the waste to bureaucratic compliance issues, such as complex Medicare rules that result in huge numbers of hospital rooms being filled by patients who don't really need to be there.
The U.S. health care system needs “major structural reform,” he said. “We need to streamline the system and create competition in the field.” He cited the development of specialty hospitals as an example of the way competition can improve health care.
National medical liability reform is also a priority, Dr. Coburn said. Due to skyrocketing insurance costs, his ob-gyn practice recently chose to limit the practice to 100 births per year rather than pay the $84,000 year liability premium they would be charged for more than 100 deliveries. “And I know the problem is even worse for other specialists,” he said.
Getting physicians into Congress
Orthopaedic PAC Chairman Paul Collins, MD, encouraged AAOS members to support the candidacies of physicians who run for office. “There's a theme here and it's about getting physicians into the Senate, into Congress,” he said. “If we can get more people like Tom into the Senate, we can have a strong voice in Washington.”
To learn more about legislative activities of the AAOS Washington Office, or to subscribe to the biweekly AAOS Washington Legislative Update, visit the D.C. Office Web site.
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