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 Volume 18, No 3                      

Feb. 1, 2016            


Garcia: TMA Has Answers to Physicians’ Anger and Depression

Kicking off the General Session of our 2016 Winter Conference , TMA President Tom Garcia, MD, recounted the stories he’s heard during his visits with physician groups around the state. “You’ve given me an earful,” he said, “about how government agencies and insurance companies and hospital administrators somehow seem to think they know more about patient care than we do.” Never-ending government regulations — like the meaningful use program that physicians have come to call “meaningless abuse” — the frustration with electronic health records, and the constant erosion of physicians’ autonomy, Dr. Garcia said, have left Texas doctors angry and depressed. “Angry physicians demand action; depressed physicians need help,” he said. “TMA is here to provide both.” Dallas psychiatrist Les Secrest, MD, joined Dr. Garcia on stage for some large group psychotherapy. “You may feel powerless,” he said, “but you’re not helpless.” The two men urged physicians to use their anger to fuel advocacy: Reach out to elected officials, show them what’s happening to medicine and what that means to patients, join TEXPAC , and be sure to vote. Among the other General Session speakers:

  • American Medical Association President Steven Stack, MD , outlined AMA’s focus areas for change, including physician satisfaction and practice sustainability. “Electronic health records will get better, and unfortunately, we are the pioneers going through some of the misery and pain for it to get better,” he said, urging the gathered physicians to “make change the way we want it, not the way others want it.”
  • State Reps. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) discussed the big demographic changes sweeping Texas and what they mean for both health care and politics. “People vote for a politician for the same reason they go to you as a doctor,” Representative Gonzalez said, “because they trust you.”
  • Social science researcher Robin Rather reviewed her studies of what patients think about the “surprise bills” they receive from out-of-network physicians. There’s not much understanding of the root causes — like narrow networks or arbitrary maximum allowables — she said. “Patients don’t blame doctors, but they want doctors to fix it — because they trust you far more than insurance companies,” she said.
  • Finally, Nick van Terheyden, MD , chief medical officer at Dell computer company, delivered a fascinating presentation on how technology like wearables, genomics, and social media will disrupt health care — probably for the better. Interestingly, he began his look into the future by quoting Lord Kelvin, a man who died 109 years ago: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

TEXPAC Releases 2016 Primary Endorsements — And Makes Some More

Early last week, TEXPAC announced the nine judicial and 134 legislative candidates we have endorsed in the March 1 party primaries. “These men and women are the best on the ballot for our profession, for our practices, and — especially — for our patients,” said TEXPAC Board Chair Brad Holland, MD. “They deserve the doctors’ vote.” But the PAC wasn’t through. On Friday, the TEXPAC board voted to endorse two more judicial candidates, six congressmen seeking reelection, and candidates in four state House races and two Senate contests. Of significant interest is the Republican primary in Senate District 24, where six candidates are running to replace retiring Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay). The board picked two women with close ties to medicine: Lakeway ophthalmologist Dawn Buckingham, MD, the former chair of the TMA Council on Legislation, and State Rep. Susan King (R-Abilene), a TMA Alliance member who is married to Immediate Past President Austin King, MD. (Today, by the way, is the deadline to register if you want to vote in the March 1 primary.) TEXPAC also honored four lawmakers for their work on behalf of patients and physicians in the 2015 Texas Legislature:

  • State Reps. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and Cindy Burkett (R-Mesquite) and State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) each received TMA’s Patient Protection Award.
  • State Sen. Charles Schwertner, MD (R-Georgetown), an orthopedic surgeon who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, received a Family of Medicine Award.

Foundation Unveils Multimillion Dollar Donor; Honors Champions of Health

TMA Foundation President Debra Fuller, MD, had more than two great health programs to talk about when she took to the podium at Winter Conference. She revealed that Houston pathologist Roberto J. Bayardo, MD, and his wife, Annie, had donated $3.2million to establish a trust fund to support the TMA Minority Scholarship Program. Their amazing generosity not only allows us to keep up with the growing number of Texas medical schools but also enables us to increase the size of the scholarships from$5,000 each to $10,000. Thank you, thank you, thank you! As for the great health programs, Dr. Fuller announced the winners of the foundation’s  2016 John P. McGovern Champion of Health Awards :

  • The top award winner is the iConquer Project, a program of It’s Your Life Foundation of Corpus Christi that is fighting obesity and diabetes by teaching young children to develop healthy food choice habits.
  • The secondary award winner is Healthy and Whole, a program of Houston’s Healthcare for the Homeless that works to help women leave prostitution and stay out of jail.

 County Society Leaders Share Struggles and Hopes

The incoming presidents and other officers and the executive staff of most of Texas’ large county medical societies gathered for our annual County Elected Leaders Forum. The top issues they discussed included medical education, balance billing, Medicaid, emergency department access and costs, and public health and disease along the Texas-Mexico border. I really like this meeting because it helps TMA and our counties start the year off right.

Balance Billing Task Force Prepares Plan

The TMA Board of Trustees’ Balance Billing Task Force is close to concluding its work. The goal is a legislative and communication strategy that will help Texas physicians avoid the fate that has befallen their colleagues in New York and other states: a ban on balance billing for all out-of-network services. The task force will present its recommendations to the board for implementation and to the House of Delegates for any new TMA policy.

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