Dallas interventional cardiologist Rick Snyder, MD, lives by a mantra that explains why he’s deeply invested in an area so many physicians outwardly avoid: politics.
“We as physicians will have more impact on the health care our patients get in legislators’ offices and regulators’ offices [than] we do in exam rooms and operating rooms,” he said. “As clinicians, we treat one patient at a time. But as physician advocates, you can treat a whole state and a whole country all at once.”
Dr. Snyder’s cardiology group, HeartPlace, maintains two political action committees — one for state races and one for the federal level — and his fervent advocacy has earned him valuable face and voice time with powerful people at both levels.
Last September, he hosted a fundraiser in his home for the only Texas physician in Congress, U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), an event that also featured outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). During a busy midterm election year full of events and fundraisers, Dr. Snyder also crossed paths with Gov. Greg Abbott, now-former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), Vice President Mike Pence, and former President George W. Bush, among others.
With that much involvement, you might assume Dr. Snyder has been a lifelong activist — someone who’s always worked the phones, closely followed medicine’s legislative interests, and rapped on heavy doors with fancy nameplates. But that’s not the case.
A 1987 graduate of UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Snyder says he had no political involvement until the early 2000s. Until then, he had never spoken to a legislator in his life, and his interest in the politics of medicine was nonexistent.
“I didn’t see it was that big of a role [to play],” he said. His thinking was, “‘Of course the legislature’s going to pass something that makes sense.’ I didn’t realize the make-sense argument almost never passes; it’s the political make-sense [argument that does].”
He came around, he says, because of the medical liability crisis that mobilized medicine into championing what became the historic tort reforms of 2003.
Dr. Snyder remembers approaching a large cardiovascular surgery group at Medical City Dallas, a tertiary referral hospital, about a patient’s surgery. With lawsuits piling up all over Texas, the group’s liability carrier had dropped it.
“They were scrambling, and so they were getting insurance from Lloyd’s of London on a day-to-day basis for, like, the whole summer, which is crazy,” Dr. Snyder recalls. “I was going, ‘Can you do a bypass for me tomorrow?’ [They said], ‘I don’t know; I’ve got to see if we have the liability insurance in place tomorrow.’”
At that point, Dr. Snyder, says, he “could see how helpless we were,” realizing the impact of legislative and regulatory factors over which doctors have control only if they leverage their influence.
Lawmakers will listen to you when you present your viewpoint, Dr. Snyder says, but you have to establish yourself with them.
“It’s not a one-off visit. It’s not a one-date-and-let’s-get-married; you’ve got to develop a relationship with time with the legislators. If they get a certain comfort level, that credibility, they’ll just call you up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this issue. How would this affect you?’ Or they’ll text you.
“Burgess will text me or email me. Angie [Chen] Button, state representative — she’s actually called me from the [House floor] in the middle of a floor vote, of a second or third reading, and said, ‘Hey, this is where this is going. What do you think? How do you think I should vote?’ … So when you get that type of relationship with a legislator or a regulator, I think that’s very important.”
Tex Med. 2019;115(1):48
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