Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Different Hat

I am currently in Sacramento wearing my California Academy of Family Physicians (CAFP) delegate hat at the Annual Congress of Delegates. Lots of civic-minded, concerned and caring family doctors doing a relatively thankless job. None of us get paid for this. Most family doctors in the state don't even know what we are doing at this meeting or that there is a meeting. But we are just trying to make a difference.

Dr. Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, was the guest speaker and she gave a quick update of how she sees the current healthcare reform going in Washington, DC. She gives the current bill a 50-60 percent chance of making it into law.

She noted how much has changed since 1 year ago when everyone talked about the importance of healthcare reform and how cooperative and bipartisan the initial talk had been. Fast forward to now and, even after 20+ years of health policy debate and study, it has reverted back to being partisan in the ugliest way.

She outlined AAFP's priorities for health care reform:
  • Expand coverage with minimum benefits package
  • Increase access/increase primary care workforce
  • Insurance market reform
  • Tort reform
Massachusetts demonstrated what happens when you increase coverage but don't have enough primary care doctors. Insurance does not equal access. 

To produce more family physicians, we need to resolve the "income differential" between primary care doctors and specialists, many of whom make 2-3 times more than FPs. There is simply no way to increase the number of family physicians when medical students see how much more they can make by going into a specialty instead.

CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) is looking into adjusting overvalued and undervalued CPT codes and has been criticized by specialists who see a loss of income. To counteract this, Heim said we need to write to our legislators to voice support for CMS's efforts.

For instance, some cardiologists claimed that eliminating the consult code would cause them to lose so much income that they would have to stop practicing cardiology and go back to primary care.

"That's okay, I said. They can come to my office and I'll teach them how to be a primary care doctor. Let's see how they like that," Heim said.

She pointed out that we need to bring Medicaid reimbursements up to at least the level of Medicare. "When you're losing money on visits, increasing the volume doesn't help."

Administrative simplification also needs to happen to relieve the crushing red tape and bureaucracy that every primary care doctor has to deal with.

Dr. Heim listed some of the major highlights of the current proposed legislation:
  • No public option. Instead there will be state by state insurance exchanges.
  • 10% bonus for primary care.
  • 94% of population will be covered under the Senate plan.
  • Establishment of a Medicare Advisory Board.
  • Accountable Care Organizations.
  • Dependent coverage up to age 26.
Heim acknowledged that the current bill is not perfect but that "it has a lot more good than bad," adding that healthcare reform will be an ongoing process.


I will be meeting with my state assemblymember and state senator on Monday to lobby/discuss CAFP's position on various pieces of healthcare legislation making its way through the state Capitol. We all complain about how bad the system is. This is my chance to try to do something about it.

If you want to do something about healthcare reform, you can help by:

  • Voting
  • Writing to your legislators
  • Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper
  • Asking your patients to write to their legislators or local papers
  • Posting/linking/tweeting/blogging about healthcare reform
  • Contributing to FP-PAC, CAFP's Political Action Committee (or your own state's PAC) or FamMedPac, AAFP's PAC so that someone will speak to the legislators for you besides the lobbyists for the insurance and drug companies.

As Dr. Tom Bent, CAFP's president said, "We no longer have the luxury of hiding in our exam rooms, or of just being a good doctor. We have to learn how to talk to the Rotary Club, legislators, the news media and the public."

Blogging's good, too, I assume.