February 2003 Bulletin

Washington Report

Election of new Senate Majority Leader

Offers optimism for physician community

By David A. Lovett, JD

The AAOS has had a longstanding relationship with Senator Bill Frist, MD, (R-Tenn.), the newly elected U.S. Senate Majority Leader. This relationship will serve the AAOS well as we work with the Senate on issues such as correcting the Medicare payment formula and professional liability reform.

Let’s face it, influence in Washington, D.C. is all about building relationships. AAOS’s interaction with Dr. Frist began long before he came to Congress. In 1994, when Dr. Frist first ran for the Senate, he ran a very tough race against a third-term Senator and powerful member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Initially, he received very little support from the Political Action Committees (PACs) of the physician community. Many of these groups were afraid to challenge a member of a powerful committee with jurisdiction over the Medicare program. At that time, it was believed by many that Dr. Frist could not unseat the incumbent.

The Committee for Quality Orthopaedic Health Care—the Orthopaedic PAC which was the predecessor of the current AAOS PAC—was one of three physician PACs that supported Sen. Frist in this first senatorial election. The orthopaedic community has always had a strong commitment to electing more physicians to Congress—and the AAOS jumped into this race very early. We attended the kick-off fundraiser for him in Washington, D.C.

When Sen. Frist beat his opponent by 13 percentage points, the Orthopaedic PAC seized the opportunity to hold the first D.C. fundraiser for him in the AAOS Washington office. It was only one week after the election, on his first trip back to the nation’s capitol as Senator-elect. This afforded a chance for the entire physician community to get to know him and provide campaign contributions in the form of debt retirement.

From that time on, the orthopaedic community has worked closely with Sen. Frist’s health care staff. Sen. Frist’s patient safety bill—which we helped draft—contained an all-important non-punitive approach to health care error reporting. He also introduced the first Medicare payment correction bill with Senators Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) and John Breaux (D-La.) in the 107th Congress. This same team was instrumental in moving the president’s compromise patients’ bill successfully through the Senate.

The AAOS already had a close working relationship with the Republican leadership. When George W. Bush was elected president, Sen. Frist’s chief health person was tapped to be the principal and senior health staff for the White House, which enhanced our immediate entrée into the new Administration.

In his role as chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Sen. Frist met with AAOS leadership, most recently at the National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference in April 2002. He frequently meets with William W. Tipton, Jr., MD, AAOS executive vice president, in interactions with the Alliance for Specialty Medicine—in which the AAOS is actively involved—and with Paul C. Collins, MD, AAOS PAC chairman.

Sen. Frist’s current health policy senior staff was promoted to handle the same issues for the majority leader, and the physician community has an optimism that perhaps such issues as correcting the Medicare payment formula may now be within reach.

In addition to these solely political activities, the AAOS Washington office has enhanced and tapped Sen. Frist’s relationships with the orthopaedic community—not only in his home state of Tennessee—but also with individual orthopaedic surgeons who attended medical school with him, or worked in the same institutions where he practiced medicine.

Under these circumstances, there is reason to believe that under Sen. Frist’s leadership, some physician issues will be finally and fairly addressed. From the time Sen. Frist came to Congress, there have always been those who have raised questions as to how his financial holdings in the Hospital Corporation of America may affect his health policy leadership.

So far, all that can be said is that Sen. Frist has continued to work in the best interest of the country. Finally, we have a person in a leadership position who has a complete understanding of the issues facing physicians.

David A. Lovett, JD, is the director of the AAOS Washington, D.C. office. He can be reached via e-mail at Lovett@aaos.org or at (202) 546-4430 or (877) 389-AAOS.

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