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President’s Message

A Different Kind of Engagement

As we enjoy summer activities here in Chicago, from neighborhood street fairs, to music festivals in Grant Park, to the Air and Water Show, I remember why I chose to live in the Chicago area after completing my residency. Yet summer is also a time when our elected officials return to their districts and their constituents, and an opportunity for us to influence the political process.

When you share your experiences of running a practice and caring for patients, you help to humanize the practice of medicine. You show politicians that medicine can be both tremendously rewarding and overly burdensome. Your specific examples can inform lawmakers when health care issues are debated in the Chicago City Council, in Springfield, and in Washington, DC.

An example of our advocacy involves the Chicago City Council’s vote to ban minors from using indoor tanning beds at city salons. Previously, anyone under age 18 could use these facilities with parental consent. The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Dermatology, and World Health Organization have all called for a ban against this age group. Your CMS governing body passed a resolution addressing this issue, and the Chicago City Council took action.

Over 400 pieces of legislation were introduced each session in Springfield recently. While scope of practice challenges continue to come up regularly, two other issues demand your attention.

First, the Medical Practice Act will expire in December if not renewed. Previously, the Act was renewed for 10-year intervals, but in recent years has been extended for only one or two years. Legislators also will discuss an increase to our licensing fee, from $300 for three years to $600 for two or three years. They claim the increase is needed to pay for the oversight of physicians, yet government officials diverted $8 million of the fund into the general fund. We must oppose this tax on physicians.

The second issue involves the Affordable Care Act and creation of an insurance exchange here in Illinois. While many popular issues have been addressed in the law, much work remains to modify the law so the goal of increased access is truly achieved. We must keep informing our legislators how much running a medical practice costs, and how Medicaid slow pay and no pay make it difficult to meet overhead and maintain cash flow. Doctors who don’t participate in Medicaid actually decrease health care access. Private practice physicians must know how FQHCs get additional payment to see Medicaid patients. And this pay is often below the cost of providing the service, with rates not tied to the cost of providing care.

You will hear soon about a “Key Contacts” program being created by CMS and ISMS. The program will collect data on members and their connections to elected officials, either personal or professional. This data will help us focus our advocacy on legislators directly involved in deliberations based on their legislative assignments. Please provide any data to CMS staff member Chrissie at 312-670-2550, ext. 326; fax to 312-670-3646; or email cfouts@cmsdocs.org.

As physicians, we can influence the legislative process more than we recognize. And re-shape our health care delivery system from the inside out.

Howard Axe, MD
President, Chicago Medical Society

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