The April issue of Insights features Will Nicholson, M.D., secretary-treasurer of MEDPAC, the MMA's political action committee, discussing the importance of physicians becoming politically active. Please take a few minutes to read Dr. Nicholson's opinion and let us know what you think.
It’s a political world – physicians need to be part of it
By Will Nicholson, M.D.
Political gridlock. It seems to be the norm these days. Partisan stand-offs, manufactured crises, shut-downs, recounts, court challenges, ballot initiatives and, lest we forget, the sequester. Despite all of this, the MMA continues to make steady progress towards transforming Minnesota into one of the best states to practice medicine, if not politics.
We could make this progress a lot easier and quicker if more physicians got involved. Unfortunately, too many of us bristle whenever the words “politics” and “health care” are mentioned in the same breath. The default pathway seems to be for physicians to remain on the sidelines, occasionally grumbling about what’s going on, but never taking action.
So why aren’t you getting involved? Is it that you don’t have an opinion? Or, perhaps, you’re fine with others making decisions for you? Maybe you’re just shy.
Nothing will change unless you make it change. We need to unite and stand up for our profession and our patients. With more than 10,000 members we could bring so much to bear on the political process.
Here’s how to do it:
First, make a donation. Money talks in politics. The easiest way to do this is to join MEDPAC, the MMA’s political action committee. You can also donate on your own but when we pool our resources with other physicians and medical students, we accomplish two goals: 1) It makes us more powerful; the group is much stronger than the individual, and 2) It makes a specific and substantive statement to candidates and the public – “organized medicine is a force to be dealt with.”
MEDPAC has been a driving-force behind battling the provider tax, protecting physicians’ scope of practice and advancing physician-led health care reform. MEDPAC operates on the principle that good health care policy isn’t a partisan issue. Some of the MMA’s priorities are most consistently supported by Democrats, others by mostly Republicans, but the majority has support from members of both parties. By building a coalition of pro-medicine lawmakers, political affiliation aside, MEDPAC has been able to steer clear of partisan grudge-matches and find a common path forward towards a healthier state.
Meet your legislators
Second, meet with your legislators. MMA makes it easier for you. Each year the MMA organizes a Day at the Capitol where physicians from across the state gather and meet with legislators. This year we talked with one physician who has attended more than 10 Days at the Capitol. He told us how his legislators recognize him, greet him by name and listen earnestly to what he has to say.
We heard similar comments from Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger, M.D. At the 2012 Day at the Capitol he told us that he used to question the value of activities like Day at the Capitol, but since becoming commissioner, he believes they are extremely valuable because lawmakers want to hear physicians’ voices.
And just this past March, Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) told Minnesota Medicine: “I hope private physicians will engage more with legislators. Physicians are very bright, respected and have expertise. If they would reach out and talk to their legislators it would greatly help as we form policy.”
They want to hear from us! What kind of invitation are we waiting for?
Many opportunities for a meeting
If you can’t make it to Day at the Capitol, the MMA will organize Capitol Rounds for you. While the Legislature is in session, you can schedule your own personal visit on your own timetable. During your Capitol Rounds, you’ll have the chance to meet with your local legislators, view hearings and floor sessions.
And for those physicians who can’t find the time to meet with legislators at the Capitol, but still desire the face-to-face discussion during the Legislative session, the MMA will set up a coffee meeting, before or after work, at your clinic or elsewhere in your community.
So, you see, getting involved in politics doesn’t require a huge financial or time investment on your part. It just needs a little initiative.
Anyone who knows me can attest that I have always been politically active. And that I’m usually a partisan. I volunteer on campaigns, lobby at the Capitol, write letters to the editor and donate to candidates and causes I believe in personally.
The more I learn about how the business of politics gets done and the power that our lawmakers have over the health of our state the more I see the importance of advocating for the profession. While I may personally get excited about my own pet issues and my personal feelings about a specific candidate I value the fact that the MMA remains laser-focused on improving the practice of medicine.
It has been said that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. I’d take that one step further. Just voting is not enough. We have too much at stake. I maintain that if you don’t get actively involved in politics now, you have no place speaking up after the fact.
So what are you waiting for? Legislators are now in the process of debating budgets. We don’t want them cutting back health care funding, again. It’s the ideal time to get involved. Join MEDPAC and meet with your legislators. Lawmakers want to hear your voice – let the MMA help you connect with them. Use your voice and help us make changes that benefit physicians and their patients in Minnesota.
Dr. Nicholson is secretary-treasurer of MEDPAC’s Board of Directors.