Go to the doctors' lounge at any hospital and you will quickly notice that physicians like to complain about what is happening to the practice of medicine - quite often justifiably. Our profession is under attack and many seek to control how we practice. Never before have so many wanted to practice medicine ... without a medical degree. The mayor, city council, legislators, Governor and even the President make decisions on how we should practice medicine, often without even asking our opinion. Let's expand Medicaid ... and then figure out the details of how physicians will deliver the care, pass legislation to reduce prescription drug abuse ... and worry later about the impact on physicians and their patients that have legitimate pain. Let's mandate "meaningful use" without knowing whether the changes are even usable much less meaningful.
Unfortunately, complaining doesn't get much fixed. Whether we like it or not, a good portion of what affects our practices, our patients and our profession is determined by elected officials. Our GLMS Policy and Advocacy Team is energized and involved, meeting with legislators, hosting and attending campaign fundraisers for candidates, and educating legislators on issues important to physicians and patients. Meanwhile, the vast majority of physicians sit on the sidelines - well, actually most are not on the sidelines, they haven't even shown up for the game.
Of the approximately 3,600 GLMS members, 24 have made a contribution to the Kentucky Physicians' PAC (KPPAC) in 2014. Some physicians say, "I don't agree with everything KPPAC does, so I contribute directly to candidates." After regularly hearing this excuse, I did a little public record investigating. In fact, as of June 30, only 33 members have contributed to one or more individual candidates this year. Add it up, 24 + 33 and you get a grand total of 57 members of GLMS that have made a financial investment in the political process in our state in 2014. When I first learned these numbers I couldn't believe it; I suspected it was low but this is embarrassing. I know I have heard more than 57 complaining.
In 2011, the optometrists made the path to legislative success very clear. They were able to get controversial legislation passed that was opposed by most major newspapers in Kentucky, the KMA, state and national ophthalmology associations and a majority of citizens. How did they do it? According to a recent Courier-Journal article, they launched "a well-orchestrated lobbying blitz in which white-coated optometrists flooded the capital and the Kentucky Optometric Association PAC and its members gave more than $400,000 in political donations." To put this in perspective, the total collected by KPPAC in 2013 was $54,600. There are less than 600 optometrists in Kentucky and over 10,000 physicians; and one could argue that physicians, on average, earn more money than optometrists.
In addition to the money they donated, optometrists also developed relationships with their legislators. Contrast that with the congressman who recently told me that in four terms in the Kentucky House no physician from his district has ever visited him in Frankfort.
The time for being on the sidelines is over. This is a critical election year which will likely determine the balance of power in Frankfort for the next several sessions. We have the opportunity to elect pro-medicine candidates. There is strong potential for several pieces of legislation important to medicine to be introduced in the next Kentucky legislative session. Many believe professional liability reform, including medical review panels, has a real chance of passage. Do you think the trial lawyers' PAC will have more than 24 donors? Legislation has been written to make contracting between physicians and third party payers more fair. Do you think Kentucky's insurers, who have hundreds of thousands of dollars in their national PACs, will be on the sidelines? More legislation on expansion of scope of practice is anticipated, and the nurse practitioners, chiropractors, podiatrists and pharmacists have PAC participation that far exceeds physicians.
Although some have been critical of KPPAC, I am amazed at its success, particularly considering the lack of physician involvement. In the recent Kentucky primaries, KPPAC supported five candidates and each candidate was victorious. I only wish they had more funds to support more pro-medicine candidates. Imagine what we could accomplish if more than one percent of GLMS and three percent of Kentucky physicians contributed.
Physicians need to become politically engaged. As Kimberly Moser, current chair of KPPAC, said, "If physicians don't protect the practice of medicine nobody will; if not you then who?" It seems that for over 3,600 GLMS members, the answer up to now has been - 57 physicians.
I'm not asking you to give up your practice and run for office, but develop a personal relationship with your city council member, legislator or other elected official. Pick a candidate and get involved in his or her campaign. At the very least join the 57 of your colleagues who contribute financially. As the old saying goes, "It's time to put your money where your mouth is."
Bruce A. Scott, MD
*GLMS members can make a contribution to KPPAC right now by going online to kppac.org.