DMLR reports on 2004 successes
Future plans build on past successes
By Stuart L. Weinstein, MD
Doctors for Medical Liability Reform (DMLR), the coalition of 230,000 practicing medical specialists established by the AAOS, has one goal: Protecting patient access to healthcare by the passage of federal medical liability reform.
In 2004, DMLR launched the first phase of its initiative aimed at educating patients, physicians and policymakers about the devastating affects of the medical liability crisis. The overall goal is to pass medical liability reform in the Senate by changing votes or by changing Senators.
In a very successful campaign, DMLR helped elect pro-liability reform candidates in five out of six key Senate races and helped narrow the possible votes to override the filibuster from 11 to seven in just one election cycle. The power of 230,000 physicians working toward one goal has been astounding and has showed that working together can bring about progress.
An effective strategy
As vice-chairman of the DMLR in 2004, I can tell you that our strategy was based on two major principles: 1) Every doctor has a story to tell about the medical liability crisis; and 2) The U.S. Senate is where our efforts must be focused. From that, we analyzed the most heated Senate races and went to work to make sure voters in those states knew the facts about the medical liability crisis and where the candidates stood on the prospects of reform.
We set out to influence three to five Senate races with hopes of picking up two or three pro-liability votes. In the end, we campaigned in six states and picked up five votes. Not bad for a group making its debut on the political scene—especially when you consider anti-reform groups outspent us nearly 3 to 1 and have decades of experience under their belts (and in their pockets).
The centerpiece of the public education campaign was the 30-minute television newsmagazine programs, which featured real doctors, real patients and real stories about the medical liability crisis. Shown on network television as well as in physicians’ offices, the newsmagazines were seen by more than 13 million Americans. More than 24,000 people called the DMLR hotline number. The Web site—www.ProtectPatientsNow.org—received more than 14,000 hits every day during the campaign. DMLR also received more than 1,000 e-mails in support of the campaign.
DMLR also ran focused, targeted full-page newspaper ads explaining the financial impact of the crisis on business and local economies. In addition, DMLR ran political ads urging support for specific liability bills in the Washington Post and other Capitol Hill publications.
The DMLR campaign generated hundreds of radio, print and television stories on the campaign and on the medical liability crises. The press office fielded calls from more than 310 reporters. In one month alone, more than 2 million media impressions were generated.
Federal liability reform
By creating “The Pledge,” DMLR ensured that candidates were aware of the issue and took a position. Candidates who signed The Pledge promised to work toward passing federal medical liability reform if they were elected. In total, 43 candidates for federal office signed The Pledge, and pro-reform candidates won in six out of eight open Senate races.
We know that many of you are reaching an unprecedented level of frustration as this crisis wrecks havoc on your relationship with your patients, your practices and your ability to provide timely care to the patients who need you most. We ask you to stick with us. Policymakers are listening; voters are listening.
It may take another year to pass significant reforms. It may take two or more. But, in the end, we will prevail because we are right. Our health care system cannot continue to be held hostage by an excessive and antiquated tort system that serves no one but trial lawyers. Regardless of how much money and clout they have, the opposition can only misrepresent the facts and distort the truth for so long before even the most mulish are forced to take off the blinders and see what is really happening.
DMLR’s goal for 2005 is to pass federal medical liability reform. The legislative priorities released by both President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, MD, put medical liability reform near the top.
The DMLR asks that you put every ounce of energy you have into lobbying your Senators to introduce a comprehensive medical liability reform bill, debate that bill and have an up-and-down vote on its merits. If we again run into a filibuster, we will use hardhitting tactics to break it. Although we cannot guarantee success in Washington, D.C., we can guarantee you that no one will be working harder to pass federal medical liability reform legislation than DMLR.
To reach our goal, we will be increasing our grassroots and earned media campaigns in 2005. We believe our best asset is you—our physician members and the patients you serve. In addition, we will be reaching out to other medical groups who are interested in seeing reform passed. The more members we have, the more effective we will be. When a medical liability reform bill is introduced, our army of advocates will march to Capitol Hill with ads, testimony, briefing materials, news releases and grassroots alerts in hand.
Looking to 2006
We will also begin laying the ground work for a Senate campaign in 2006, if need be. We will be monitoring the positions of elected officials and possible candidates and declaring our support early and loudly.
Once again, our policy will be to pick out vulnerable anti-reform candidates and make medical liability reform an issue in their races. It is imperative that elected officials understand there are consequences for their votes and voting against protecting patient access to health care is not acceptable.
Now that we have shared our to-do list, we would like to take this opportunity to give you a to-do list of your own:
1. Watch the DMLR Web site (http://www.protectpatientsnow.org/) for updates on the campaign.
2. Respond to grassroots initiatives from DMLR and your respective organizations. This includes requests for stories on the crisis and writing letters to Congress.
3. Engage your patients in this crisis. Put up posters; hand out letters; write letters to the editor; be creative.
4. Engage your fellow physicians in this crisis. One letter to Capitol Hill from a physician constituent is nice; thousands make a statement that cannot be ignored.
Together, we can fight this battle and prevail. We thank all of you for your efforts in 2004 and ask for your continued support.
Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, is AAOS President and the current chairman of Doctors for Medical Liability Reform.