Legislative Hotline Feb. 8, 2021: Why Get Involved in TMA Advocacy? “No Better Thing to Do”
By Joey Berlin

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Maybe you think the “house of medicine” – as the Texas Medical Association’s collective advocacy efforts are often called – isn’t for you. Maybe you prefer your own patient-centered medical home instead, rolling up your sleeves and focusing on daily patient care. Maybe it seems like too much time and trouble to get involved in policy.

Or perhaps you’re averse to the house of medicine’s engagement with the political sphere, which itself often seems more like a “Big Brother” house or “The House on Haunted Hill” – a noisy, scary place where your voice won’t be heard anyway.

Well, TMA advocacy veterans have some messages for you: It’s worth it. Your profession needs you. Texas health care doesn’t get its house in order without physician voices directing the movers. And your voice will be heard.

For example, when Texas Medicine Today caught up last week with Beaumont anesthesiologist Ray Callas, MD, he was near the end of a long stretch of meetings as part of TMA’s monthly, now-virtual First Tuesdays at the Capitol. His entire afternoon had been an illustration of why getting involved in physician advocacy is anything but fruitless.

“When they say, ‘My voice doesn’t matter,’ I don’t believe that,” said Dr. Callas, a past chair of TMA’s Council on Legislation and currently a member of TMA’s Board of Trustees. “Today, for example: We were in meetings with the lieutenant governor, and senators, and House members, including the speaker of the House. Because we all care.

“Does it take time and effort? Yes, it does. But I will tell every physician that I run into now, and in the past, that you can always contribute one way or the other.”

Lasting reward
For Austin oncologist Debra Patt, MD, chair of TMA’s Council on Legislation, her involvement in advocacy comes in part from her desire to create good health policy. She says physicians need to work with elected officials, who often don’t have a background in health care, and help them recognize the natural consequences of health care-related policy.

“If we are not part of the process, then health care will have unfavorable outcomes. Said differently, I feel like health care is either at the table or on the menu,” Dr. Patt said. “And participation is an important way to make sure that health care throughout the state is both efficient and reasonable.”

There’s no getting around the fact that involvement in policy is a time commitment. Along with being a privilege, Dr. Patt says it’s a “large burden,” too. But it’s one that nets deep personal satisfaction when your work moves the state of medicine forward – or keeps it from backward steps.

Another longtime physician advocate, Fort Worth-area pediatrician Jason V. Terk, MD, says getting involved has “allowed me to extend the scope of my professional life beyond the four walls of my practice in a way that I could’ve never imagined.” And he says teaming up with others who are just as passionate as you are about a particular issue can be not only effective, but fulfilling as well.

“I can think of things like the booster seat laws that we have in the state of Texas,” said Dr. Terk, a past chair of the Council on Legislation. “It took two or three sessions to get something done to make a decent booster seat law. But with patience and diligence and not giving up, progress incrementally happens, [and] eventually you can achieve something that’s important.”

The needs of now
TMA has some important asks of the Texas Legislature as it navigates the early days of the most unusual session in recent memory.

With the potential for a significantly scaled-back calendar on both the House and Senate sides, TMA hopes to persuade lawmakers to deliver on a pared-back list of medicine’s biggest needs, including permanent payment parity for telemedicine services; reforms that limit insurers’ onerous, care-impeding prior authorization tactics; and preventing nonphysician practitioners from their clockwork attempts to expand their scope into the practice medicine.

That trio of issues are big reasons for physicians to join TMA’s advocacy efforts over the next few months, Dr. Patt says. And there are many other standing topics that will come up soon at the Capitol on which lawmakers need to hear physician voices, again and again. Especially when other voices have legislators’ ear as well.

“We continue to whack on perennial issues like improving on Medicaid reimbursement rates,” Dr. Terk added. “But if we weren’t there making that argument, then nobody would. So we have to continue to speak up on those issues.”

It’s also important for physicians to speak up about the importance of vaccines and their critical role in public health, Dr. Terk added.

“It’s vital, it’s important, it’s meaningful. You may not be able to measure the effect every time. But it is nevertheless necessary, and I’m glad to do it.”

Dr. Callas notes that even if you pass on the grind of committee testimony, meetings with lawmakers, and other legislation-related business, you can still help out.

“I say this all the time: You’re never too busy to protect your profession. You’re never too busy to be the voice of medicine, to protect patients,” he said. “When they say, ‘I don’t have any time,’ I just hear that as an excuse. Because there’s no better thing to do. Even if you don’t have the time, you still have an opportunity to give to TEXPAC, [TMA’s] political advocacy arm, to contribute so that way we can be more effective.”

Easy Ways to Get Involved in TMA Advocacy 

Here are ways to get involved in TMA’s grassroots advocacy efforts:

Stay up to date on TMA’s progress in the legislature. And take advantage of other opportunities to get involved with our advocacy efforts. 

Last Updated On

February 08, 2021

Originally Published On

February 08, 2021

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Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393
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Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

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