Yesterday I spent the day on Capitol Hill advocating for healthcare reform. Every year I join other members of the ASPS (American Society of Plastic Surgeons) in Washington D.C. for an advocacy event where we try to raise awareness for important issues facing our patients and our specialty. We have a lobbying group that helps us with the ins and outs of district politics, but at the end of the day, we are doing the talking. As many of you know, we are facing a national debt crisis at this very moment with a looming August 2nd deadline. So as you might imagine our agenda was not the first thing on everyone’s mind in D.C. Despite this we carried our messages forth. We met with the several congressmen and women and discussed our agendas. Here is a synopsis of what we discussed:

Protection of Medicare-

The current formula for Medicare calls for a 30% reduction in physician reimbursement at the end of 2011. Medicare physician reimbursement has steadily declined since 1989 and this additional cut would make it nearly impossible for physicians to pay their staff and overhead while taking care of our senior citizens. We fear that this fee reduction would cause many physicians to stop accepting Medicare patients. As plastic surgeons we perform many procedures for our Medicare patients including skin cancer treatment, breast reconstruction, and wound care to name a few. The current cost of preventing this 30% payment cut is 30 billion dollars. So the problem is significant. I generally do not believe in social entitlements; however the men and women who built this country are entitled to the best health care we have to offer. I proudly accept Medicare and hope the government fixes this dilemma and keeps Medicare feasible.

CARES bill –

CARES (children’s access to reconstructive evaluation and surgery) is a bill that standardizes the insurance coverage nationwide for children born with congenital defects. Currently these decisions are made on a state by state basis and this often leads to crucial delays in necessary surgeries that children need. This bill has been proposed for the past 5 years and has received bi-partisan support. It was included in the House version of the healthcare reform bill from 2010; however it was omitted from the final Senate version of the bill. One would think this is an easy bill to have passed, however it seems in D.C., nothing is logical or easy.

Medical Liability Reform-

Here are the facts: The congressional budget office has determined that medical liability reform would save the country 50 billion dollars. Medical malpractice insurance premiums for many doctors are above $100k yearly- more than some doctors annual incomes. The fear of a lawsuit causes the practice of defensive medicine, which leads to unnecessary testing and procedures, further driving up the cost of healthcare. Reform is needed and almost everyone in Washington agrees, but it will never happen. 61% of congress is comprised of lawyers. Trial lawyers make their livings off of lawsuits. Sadly, the system is corrupt and everyone is going to suffer the consequences as the access and quality of American healthcare declines.

Lest I sound cynical, I still feel that our system of government is the best in the world. It was a uniquely American experience to walk across the lawn of the Capitol and into the office of my congressman to voice my concerns. I urge all of you to speak up and be heard. Write or email your representatives, or better yet, pay them a visit in person.

God bless America!

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