February 2024 MMA Advocacy Champion

Lawrence-mary.pngMary Gilbert Lawrence, MD, MPH

1. Why is being an advocate so important to you?
Every human has a desire to be in excellent health, an essential element of which is the availability of excellent health care.  Central to excellence in health care are excellent physicians, who can only be truly excellent if they are so enabled.

With both my parents, my sister and brother-in-law all physicians, as well as a nephew in medical school and more nieces and nephews studying hard in college hoping to become physicians, I feel that is accurate to say that I come from a “medical family.”  According to family lore, my great-great grandfather, a physician who left Europe to serve as a physician to underserved rural mining communities in Australia in the 1800s, was sometimes paid in chickens or in IOUs that nearly always were eventually paid.  He set up and personally provided much-needed, economically sustainable, and greatly appreciated medical care in the communities he served.  
As a physician, and to honor my family’s legacy, I feel compelled to strongly advocate for what must be done through government to enable Minnesota’s physicians to provide excellent care for the people of Minnesota.

2. What (Minnesota) health-care related issues have you advocated for over the past year(s)?
My advocacy this past year has been for Minnesotans to receive eye care which only physicians can provide.  Optometrists are currently attempting to pass legislation allowing them to practice medicine outside their training and expertise, I believe for commercial reasons. I am working with my ophthalmologist colleagues to do our best to preserve the sight of Minnesotans.

Over the past several years, my husband, Jim, and I have hosted dozens of political fundraisers, including a fundraiser for MEDPAC, the MMA’s political action committee. I always make it a point to deliver a message of “patients first” and “physician-led excellence in medical care” to the candidates.  Together, Jim and I have developed personal relationships with legislative leaders in Minnesota, and as a result, we hope that “excellent physician-led health care” is at the forefront of legislative decision making.

In 2017, I testified before the Minnesota House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Minnesota Senate Commerce Committee in support of early eye drop prescription legislation. The bill was successfully passed.

In 2019/2020, I successfully led a charge to reverse a misguided December 2019 directive from the Minnesota Department of Health adding Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) to the list of “qualifying conditions” for the Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program.

In 2020, I testified before the Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee delivering a message about the risks of optometrists being allowed to prescribe certain oral medications and to give injections into and around the eyes.  The bill was “tabled” in that Committee Hearing, essentially defeating it.

3. What advice would you offer to others who are interested in advocacy?
Think about what you see in health care which must be changed – or preserved — and where physicians are central to changing – or maintaining – excellence in health care.

Make sure to stress what is best for excellent patient care.

Spend time getting to know your legislators. Invite them to have a cup of coffee with you. Contribute to their campaigns, volunteer for a couple hours on a weekend to stuff envelopes or knock doors for them and attend MMA’s Physicians’ Day-at-the Capitol.