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President’s Message

Time to Step Up

"We’re doctors, we don’t want to pay for anything,” a colleague said recently while we were discussing membership in organized medicine. Sad to say, this was not the first time I’ve heard such responses from non-member physicians, and I’m sure some of you recall similar ones.

This way of thinking came up again in a conversation I had several years ago with my neighbor’s son as we stood on the driveway. He told me about his new job as a bagger at the local grocery store. He was upset that he had to join a union and pay dues. He wasn’t aware of the benefits he would receive, only aware of the cost coming out of his paycheck.

What do these examples tell us? While we are not automatically made union employees, we physicians overlook the benefits of belonging to an organization that represents and fights for us. And in this column, I want to take a closer look at membership and examine how not joining affects each of us and our profession.

With the Illinois legislature returning to Springfield for the fall veto session, a critical issue—renewal of the Medical Practice Act—is coming up. As many of you know, the Act historically has been renewed for ten-year increments, up until the last several years; the latest renewal was for only 13 months. One of the reasons for more frequent renewal has been a push by legislators and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to raise the physician licensure fee from $300 to $600 every three years. This would be the first fee increase in 25 years. But something important is never mentioned when legislators talk about raising the fee: the fact that over the years the legislature has raided this fund to the tune of $8 million and diverted monies to the general fund. There might not be a need for additional licensure revenue if the fee income hadn’t been diverted from its intended purpose. The fee increase is the equivalent of a tax increase on physicians in Illinois. I’m not aware of the legislature requesting a fee increase on other licensed professionals.

This is where the Chicago Medical Society (CMS) and Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) are needed. Unless physicians speak up, this “tax” on our profession will become a reality. Both CMS and ISMS are working in Springfield to block the fee increase, as we did successfully last year, for the benefit of ALL Illinois physicians.

If made fully aware of the professional and financial benefits, I think many reluctant physicians would join organized medicine. Communicating value was the purpose of our Partnership for Membership Growth program, which exposed non-members to the work being done on their behalf to improve the climate of medicine. As part of this effort, CMS and ISMS hosted numerous educational programs and will continue to provide timely and relevant programming.

We are working to persuade employed physicians to join together and insist that their employers include organized medicine dues as part of their benefits package. While one shouldn’t expect the hospital or employer to make a physician’s best interests their primary focus, employers should be reminded that they, too, benefit from organized medicine. After all, hospitals will have to pay the increased licensure fees sought by IDPH, and will have to address declining reimbursements if the SGR is not repealed and replaced. Unfortunately, the current situation is such that non-member physicians reap the benefits of organized medicine without contributing financially to our efforts. As a result, those physicians who do join are required to pay a disproportionate share for our benefits and services, unlike union members.

While we have historically enjoyed a strong voice in Springfield, our strength might fade if medical societies can’t attract and retain members. Organized medicine is not a trade union, and membership is voluntary. For this reason, every physician has an obligation to their profession and their patients to join and support our efforts to protect and maintain the doctor-patient relationship.

Now is the time to exercise your voice and encourage non-members to share the load. As the saying goes, “together we are stronger.”

Howard Axe, MD
President, Chicago Medical Society

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