February 1999 Bulletin

Orthopaedists can make a difference

Learn how to be effective when communicating with your legislator

By Sandra Lee Breisch

Legislative activities led by orthopaedic surgeons have a way of paying off. Take last year's Texas Senate bill 386 which allows patients enrolled in managed care plans to make health maintenance organizations (HMOs) liable for certain health care treatment decisions.

"Yes, taking a stand and getting involved in legislative matters can make a difference," stresses William E. Schreiber, MD, an orthopaedist who is second vice president of the Texas Orthopaedic Association. "So, for each orthopaedist who's done nothing but sit in the doctor's lounge and complain about issues, use that energy to get involved in state legislative matters instead. If you don't have any input, you can't blame the system for not producing the bill you want."

Richard A. Geline, MD, an orthopaedist and president of the Illinois State Medical Society, seconds that emotion. "In Illinois, we look for a medical majority," explains Dr. Geline. "If you look around nationally, you've two major debates: tort reform and managed care reform. So, what we look for [in the legislative process] is keeping goals focussed and looking for whatever help, wherever you can find it. Get involved."

Here's some tips from Dr. Schreiber and Dr. Geline on how to lead the charge and get your voice heard:

Timing is key. Know when your legislative session meets. The best time to influence a law is before it hits the legislature. And the best time to make friends with legislators is before they get elected. So start the relationship early on.

Don't wait until you want something to establish a relationship with your elected representatives.

Don't just start the relationship when the bill is already being voted on because it's too late to have an impact on it from that point on.

During the election year, orthopaedists need to personally meet the people running for office. They can do this by going to a fundraiser or being a fundraiser. It helps to do it as a group with other physicians so that the legislators know what the medical community's feelings are about issues.

Get your spouses involved. They are a very important part of the legislative process. They can help coordinate activities with you, go to social functions or fundraisers or organize fundraisers.

Get involved in your state orthopaedist society, state medical society, specialty society, do committee work and attend branch meetings. Work with the Academy in political efforts.

Write letters to your congressmen or congresswomen or senators about issues.

Generously support your political action committees (PACs) of your state orthopaedic association, state medical society or the "orthopaedic PAC"-the Committee for Quality Orthopaedic Health Care. Work in concert to advance the interest of doctors and patients. Your contribution of time or money creates a strong, unified voice.

Know the issues and know where your political leaders stand on these issues. If you're a supporter, you want to influence their stance and help develop their opinions on the issues as much as you can.

Understand congressional limitations of what Congress can or cannot do.

Make is easy for Congress to help you. State your problem or issues clearly. Suggest what action is necessary.

Avoid being self-serving. Always approach problems from the point of view of what's right for your patients or medicine, rather than what's right for you.

Don't give up hope. The political process takes time.

Get involved in your state elections by campaigning or even running for office.

"The younger you are, the more important it is that you get involved," says Dr. Schreiber. "You have the most to lose because you're going to be practicing the longest. Why? Because we're losing control over medical care which impacts the care our patients get. And the patients rely on us to be their voice to protect them."

As Dr. Geline puts it, "Orthopaedists are clear thinking and industrious people. There's no reason why they can't get involved."

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