Doctors play major roles in politics, but never as usual

A message to all physicians from Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees.

By Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist in Lexington, Ky., is president of the AMA. She served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2010-11 Posted May 16, 2011.

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Since physician Josiah Bartlett became the first man after John Hancock to sign the Declaration of Independence -- thereby putting his life on the line should the so-called Americans not win the Revolutionary War -- physicians have played consequential roles in American politics.

Today, 20 physicians are serving in Congress, several are governors, and many others have been elected either to their state legislatures or city councils or serve in appointed positions. Many of the rest of us work at the grassroots level, doing what we can to make sure that lawmakers understand the implications of their actions on physicians and patients. It is, if you will, a historic tradition.

I am proud to say that during my time as chair of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees, I have had the opportunity to testify before congressional committees, meet with legislators, write letters to key officials and regularly be involved in the political arena. Another thing I do, and have done for two decades, is support AMPAC, the AMA's political action committee.

Fifty years ago -- during the activist '60s -- the AMA House of Delegates voted to become the first non-labor union organization to form a political action committee. We believed that our voluntary donations, contributed judiciously to candidates who understand the needs of patients and physicians, could make a difference to our profession. It proved to be a good idea, and one that we all can celebrate in style at AMPAC's 50th birthday party at the AMA Annual Meeting in June.

That decision half a century ago was a pioneering step that was soon emulated by other politically minded groups.

Less than 20 years after the House of Delegates created AMPAC, there were more than 3,000 other political action committees in the U.S. Today there are more than 4,000.

In the beginning, AMPAC was a way for America's physicians to raise money and make strategic contributions to federal candidates.

This was over and above the day-to-day work of the AMA in Washington and state capitals. Today, AMPAC also conducts political education programs, spearheads issue- and candidate-related communications and works actively in the political arena. And what began several years ago as AMPAC's Grassroots Conference has grown into the annual National Advocacy Conference, a signature part of AMA's advocacy efforts. To give you a better idea about what AMPAC has been doing lately, during the 2010 election cycle, AMPAC:

  • Raised $2.4 million in hard dollars and an additional $1.1 million for political education programs.
  • Mailed out more than 1 million pieces of mail and made more than 900,000 phone calls to seniors in key Senate and House districts.
  • Held Candidate Workshop and Campaign School programs that attracted more than 60 physicians, residents and medical students.
  • Contributed to 355 candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate in 2010.

I am happy to report that 90% of the candidates AMPAC supported for the U.S. House and 96% of the candidates for the Senate were elected.

Last year was an extremely important year politically as we worked to see the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act put into place. This year is also important as we continue to work on the health system reform law, plus on key issues like Medicare's sustainable growth rate formula and liability reform.

If you want to know more about AMPAC or find out more about the Candidate Workshops or Campaign Schools, come and talk with me. You also can visit AMPAC's booth during the AMA Annual Meeting or find more information about AMPAC online (link).

As part of AMPAC's golden anniversary, the AMA has published a book describing the political lives of many of America's physicians, beginning with Josiah Bartlett and including hundreds of members of Congress, state legislators, governors, U.S. surgeons general and countless others.

It's a fascinating book, and it makes me proud all over again of my political activities with the Kentucky Medical Society and the AMA.

The book is part biography, part narrative and part quotes from our politically active colleagues over the past two centuries.

In particular, I liked these words from Otis R. Bowen, MD.

Dr. Bowen was an Indiana state legislator, speaker of the Indiana House, governor and secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Reagan.

He said: "You can't be involved if you don't care and if you don't care, your involvement is unnecessary and probably harmful. Care, and contribute some of your time, talent, effort and finances."

AMPAC is not only important, it has been an innovator and leader in the political arena and a key voice of America's physicians. Besides, we would not be members of the AMA if we did not care about the future of medicine in this nation.

Ardis Dee Hoven, MD , an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist in Lexington, Ky., is president of the AMA. She served as chair of the AMA Board of Trustees during 2010-11

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