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President’s Message

A New Year, the Same Game

As we begin a new year, President Obama and the new Congress will be sworn into office. The decisions they make will be influenced by the lobbying efforts of numerous organizations. The same scenario will take place in Springfield and Chicago. We are working to improve our ties to local government, and need your help. We have created a “Key Contacts” program, and ask that you inform us of any professional or personal relationships you have with politicians. Your Chicago Medical Society leadership will represent your interests with political leaders in Washington, DC, in February in conjunction with the AMA National Advocacy Conference. Many of you, however, may be unfamiliar with the political process. So here is a primer on how the game works.

First, money talks. Many sources will confirm the idea that you get what you give. Physicians are outspent by the insurance industry, big tobacco, pharma and attorneys. In the health care arena, the AMA has competition from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, American College of Radiology, American Society of Anesthesiologists, and American College of Emergency Physicians, to name many of the bigger players. Instead of speaking with a unified voice, each of these organizations moves their own political agenda, often without regard to the other medical specialty societies. This could potentially weaken our own collective voice and limit our ability to reshape the health care landscape.

Second, have patience. It can take three to five years for legislation to move through the political process to become law. Just because a topic doesn’t seem to gain the ear of a politician the first time it is introduced doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth pursuing. It will often gain momentum the more it is discussed. We must be persistent in our efforts.

Third, size matters. As leaders of our organization, we are often asked by politicians how many physicians we represent. When we answer, “25 percent,” it begs the question, “who is representing the other 75 percent?” The real answer is likely no-one, since those physicians are removed from the process because they are either too busy to be involved or do not understand that their non-participation in organized medicine greatly weakens the efforts of those who are trying to defend our profession and our patients. This is why every physician needs to join organized medicine as their professional obligation. CMS speaks for all physicians on topics relevant to our profession.

Fourth, consider the wild card. Our wild card is our relationship with our patients. Most physicians seem unaware of the influence we have on our patients, even in matters not related to their health care. When we engage our patients in the process, they will become more informed of the issues and how they impact the care delivery system. For example, if patients understood the discrepancy between malpractice insurance costs in Illinois and neighboring states, they would better understand our issues. Or if they understood why physicians are selling their practices to the local hospital or retiring early, the stereotype of the “rich doctor” might be altered. Informing our patients of the issues doesn’t have to involve promoting one political party over another, but explain how the issue affects our ability to practice medicine and deliver high quality care.

So, write a resolution for the Governing Council to debate. Help us increase our membership and our voice as we advocate for physicians and patients. Encourage colleagues to join. If employed, ask your employer to include your dues in your benefits package. Help us be an even greater voice as we compete with other groups to shape the future of health care locally and at the state and federal levels. Together we are stronger.

Howard Axe, MD
President, Chicago Medical Society

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