"What should I do today to impact healthcare?" I am frequently asked by physician friends, "How can I be more involved?" or "How can my involvement have an impact?" For too long physicians have believed if they "just did the right things," "everything would work out." The events of the last decade, and especially the last year, have proved that paradigm to be wrong. I see three basic tenets to political involvement by physicians.
1. Be informed
Read the Editorials in your Local Newspaper - This is the best way for you to feel the pulse of your community.
Read Opposing Opinions - Another way physicians should be involved is to read the opinions of those who are proposing changes in our healthcare system on both sides of the issue. Former Senator Daschle has written a book which details the plan supported by the Obama administration for comprehensive healthcare reform. Former Congressman Gingrich has also written an outline for comprehensive healthcare reform.
2. Be heard
Attend town hall meetings in your area - When your congressmen and senators come back to the district, see them and talk to them.
Talk to your Patients - When patients ask you your opinions of healthcare reform, take the time to tell them. A letter to a congressman from a patient is far more meaningful than a letter from one of us that may seem self-serving.
Write a Letter to the Editor - This is probably the single best way to communicate directly with your congressman and senators. Each day, staff members from congressional and senate offices pour through local newspapers, especially the editorial page, and compile a stack of articles for the congressman or senator to read. Writing a letter to the editor, published in the newspaper, almost guarantees that your senator and congressman, him or herself, will actually read your letter. Don't think your article will never get published. At least once a month over the last three months, long editorials from physicians - including one from me - were published in my local newspaper.
E-Mail your Congressman or Senator - The letters sent by e-mail directly to congress and senate offices are likely to be read by staff members. Summaries are presented to the elected officials, and the staff members keep a tally of pro and con. Writing twice a month would not be overkill.
3. Be involved
Travel to Washington, D.C. - For practicing physicians, this is a tremendous expense, but the congressmen know that it is a sacrifice, and often set aside time to see you themselves, not just their aides.
Give to ALLERPAC- Many of us don't know allergy has a PAC (Political Action Committee). ALLERPAC allows us, as allergists, to speak with one voice, although not many of us have been involved in the past. When the letter comes asking you to make a contribution, don’t put it off; just do it.
Make a Contribution - As a politician once said, "You are either at the table or on the menu." The best way to be at the table is to make political contributions. Political contributions are best given to the candidate in person at a fundraiser.
Support Physician Congressmen - Who on Capitol Hill can better understand our issues than another physician? Support our Congressional leaders (especially those who are also physicians) whenever you can.