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Awards, Acclaim, Advocacy

Outgoing president thanks partners and looks back at public health strides

IT WAS A NIGHT of public policy, mourning and appreciation as more than 150 physicians and guests gathered for the Chicago Medical Society Council on Nov. 20. It was also Dr. Vemuri Murthy’s last major event as CMS president. His term comes to a close in 2019.

The Council met only one day after the Mercy Hospital shooting rampage. A physician, a pharmacy resident, and a police officer all died, as did the gunman himself. A memorial resolution from CMS honors the slain physician, Tamara O’Neal, MD. Dr. O’Neal was an emergency medicine specialist who was completing her residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Preckwinkle Delivers Keynote
With firearm violence striking at the heart of the healthcare community, it was only appropriate that keynote speaker Toni Preckwinkle raised the issue in her address.

The Cook County Board president echoed the Medical Society when she called for gun violence research, a goal shared by CMS. “We must convince the federal government to fund gun violence research so we can create effective, large-scale solutions,” Preckwinkle said. “A public health approach—similar to what we have done with car safety and cigarette smoking—is imperative if we are to make widespread progress.”

Preckwinkle highlighted another top CMS priority—the opioid crisis. The County health system has been able to reduce painkiller prescriptions by 25% in the last year. “But we are not done, and we won’t be done until the Cook County medical examiner stops seeing preventable fatalities,” she noted.

New Era for County System
As one of the nation’s largest public health systems, County has a budget of nearly $3 billion. Today it is caring for the underserved in ways never before possible, Preckwinkle said. That transformation began in 2013 with the addition of a new “family member.” The new member of the family is CountyCare, a Medicaid health plan that Cook County operates.

It’s the largest Medicaid health plan in Cook County, even with competition from Blue Cross Blue Shield and Centene. “In 2009, more than half the health system’s operating budget was funded through local taxpayer dollars—today that number is less than 5% of the health system’s operating budget,” Preckwinkle told the Council.

The decision to expand Medicaid in Illinois, following the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, gave coverage to more than one million residents, including more than 600,000 in Cook County. “Our plan today has 335,000 members,” Preckwinkle said. “We cared for many of these individuals when they were uninsured, and that often meant in our emergency rooms,” she pointed out.

“County has made enormous progress toward helping patients with complex and chronic conditions get the right care at the right place at the right time,” Preckwinkle noted. “Medicaid funding has made it possible for County to invest deeply in coordinated care management, radiology services, laboratory automation, pharmacy consolidation and same-day surgery at Stroger Hospital.”

Honoring Legislative Partners
In addition to her keynote address, Preckwinkle was the recipient of an award from CMS. Citing her leadership, Dr. Murthy also lauded County’s huge contributions to medical education. “Many of our members have long had a special relationship with Cook County Health and Hospitals System because they trained there as young doctors and it has helped them become great medical care providers with the ability to give back to their communities and patients.”

Also present to accept CMS awards were U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, and City Council Pro-tempore Ald. Margaret Laurino. Each lawmaker, Dr. Murthy said, has partnered with CMS on a range of public health goals.

“We have worked with Senator Durbin on the opioid crisis and continue to work with him to educate the public and medical profession to make sure medicines are prescribed safely and effectively,” Dr. Murthy noted.

“Senator Durbin has been an advocate for education of physicians and the Chicago Medical Society was the first and only group in the medical community to participate with him in developing meaningful legislation,” Dr. Murthy told the Council. “And we are collaborating for more success with Senator Durbin on the effort to introduce drug price transparency into our market in what should help our patients afford their prescription medicines.

” At the local level, Dr. Murthy said, CMS has worked with the Chicago City Council and Alderwoman Laurino and Alderman Burke on everything from raising the smoking age, to regulating energy drinks and taxing e-cigarettes to CPR training. This partnership often includes testimony, which is what CMS gave on a local ordinance to address drug price gouging.

“It’s important for us to have these relationships at the local, state and national level because they allow us to collaborate with our elected officials to introduce legislation, shape and reshape legislation and—when warranted—put a stop to legislation that is harmful,” Dr. Murthy said. “There’s the divide and conquer or there’s working together. And we have chosen the latter,” Dr. Murthy noted to applause.

Advocacy for Physicians
As payment and care delivery structures change, CMS has already achieved new legislation that brings network adequacy and transparency to health plans sold in Illinois, Dr. Murthy noted.

It’s not only patients who have a real stake in the network adequacy measure. High-performance, high-value, and tiered plans are gaining traction among employers. Insurers regard these plans as a quality measure, with metrics to evaluate health providers on clinical factors, efficiency, and cost. Physicians can be paid or removed from networks based on these measures. The momentum will only build as insurers and employers look to further control costs.

It was CMS who identified and developed policy and model legislation, Dr. Murthy said. “We did this through effective research, education and advocacy.” He urged members to participate with CMS when other issues arise, so that medicine can cultivate the shift in healthcare and policy.

“It wasn’t long ago that Dr. Raj Lal brought the problem of economic credentialing of physicians during the 1990s to our attention when hospitals were pressuring physicians to admit patients—often for the wrong reasons,” Dr. Murthy recalled.

Our members have also effectuated change with prompt pay legislation that requires managed care companies to pay claims on a timely basis, Dr. Murthy added.

Dr. Murthy leaves CMS well-positioned to advocate and educate. In addition to his continuing involvement at CMS, Dr. Murthy, a board-certified anesthesiologist, serves on the faculty of the emergency medicine department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is longtime CPR instructor as well.

As one of the largest county medical society’s in the nation, CMS brings together physicians of all specialties, and thus has a voice on all aspects of medicine. Founded in 1850, the Society’s mission promises to cultivate the science and art of medicine, promote professional experience and encourage enthusiasm for the profession.

Incoming 2019 President Announces First Priorities
A. Jay Chauhan, DO, takes office in 2019 as the 170th president of the Chicago Medical Society. Addressing the Council, Dr. Chauhan said his first priority will be in Washington, DC, on Feb. 11-13, when the Medical Society will be meeting with legislators from the Cook County Congressional Delegation. During this time, CMS will be renewing bonds with the Congressional Doctors Caucus and meeting with Administration officials.

“During our visits to Washington, we advocate on issues ranging from scope of practice, to medical reimbursement, to physician workforce expansion, to burnout, and the administrative burden fueling so much of that burnout,” Dr. Chauhan said. In the last year alone, he noted, the Medical Society has met several times with U.S. Senators Duckworth and Durbin.

Dr. Chauhan urged members to share their personal stories with him so that he can relay them directly to legislators. “It is very important that you provide specific examples, told from personal experience, so we can demonstrate the harmful impact of a rule or guideline on patient care and on the physician-patient relationship,” he explained.

The CMS Advocacy Committee and Key Contact Program also will be mobilized to work with Dr. Chauhan and together they will set objectives for these important meetings.

Dr. Chauhan practices otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and facial plastic surgery at Deaconess Hospital. He is the past section chief at Alexian Brothers Medical Center and a former clinical assistant professor at Midwestern University where he received his DO. He earned a fellowship from the American Osteopathic College of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

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