Change is being ushered in with the New Year: The 2015-2016 session of Pennsylvania’s legislature is underway, and Tom Wolf was sworn in as Pennsylvania’s new governor on Jan. 20.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) held a media call-in on Jan. 22 to address PAMED’s legislative priorities and top health care issues for 2015. Participating in the call, led by PAMED Executive Vice President Mike Fraser, PhD, CAE, were PAMED President Karen Rizzo, MD, FACS, a practicing otolaryngologist from Lancaster; Larry Light, senior vice president of physician advocacy and political affairs; Scot Chadwick, Esq., legislative counsel; David Thompson, director of legislative affairs; and Hannah Walsh, associate director of legislative affairs.
Legislative Priorities: Helping Physicians Serve Patients
Pennsylvania is undergoing a transition in which the number of physicians employed by a hospital or health system is increasing dramatically. PAMED is mindful of issues that are affecting employed physicians as well as their colleagues in independent practice. For example, PAMED is committed to ensuring physicians’ clinical autonomy and is working toward the elimination of restrictive covenants.
Scope of practice remains a perennial issue. PAMED believes in physician-led, team-based care with the physician as the leader of the health care team, while acknowledging the value and vital contributions of every member of the team, including physician assistants and certified registered nurse practitioners. “Helping patients is important. Helping patients the right way is more important,” noted Dr. Rizzo. Patients benefit when a physician leader directs treatment.
Even bills that, on the surface, don’t seem connected to health care can have a real impact on physicians. Property tax reform has been a hot issue of late. PAMED is monitoring potential bills that would empower local school boards to replace property taxes with taxes on other services, potentially including physician services. Such a tax could pose logistical problems with insurers that would negatively impact both physicians and patients.
Three Other Top Issues
Three other issues were identified as important health care topics for 2015:
- Telemedicine: “Our goal is to remove barriers,” noted Larry Light in reference to PAMED’s stance on telemedicine. There are still hurdles to be overcome, including increasing the number of third-party payers that reimburse for telemedicine in the commonwealth. Ultimately, telemedicine can provide more options for patients in the state.
- Medical Student Loan Forgiveness: To improve access to care in medically underserved areas, PAMED recommends increased funding for the state’s Primary Care Loan Repayment Program (LRP). “On average, medical students today graduate with $170,000 in debt, and many owe upwards of $300,000,” said Hannah Walsh. Pennsylvania’s LRP provides much needed debt relief to physicians and other health care professionals who commit to practicing for a number of years in rural and underserved areas. PAMED is encouraged by Gov. Wolf’s support of the program in his “Fresh Start” policy plan.
- Medical Marijuana: PAMED supports further research to determine whether medical marijuana can be scientifically proven to be beneficial to patients. It would be premature to legalize medical marijuana at this time, Scot Chadwick commented. Further testing is needed on side effects and quality control, for example.
Health Care Legislation Can Pay Dividends Well into the Future
Pennsylvania’s budget shortfalls will not deter PAMED and its members from advocating for physicians and patients. “It’s generally the case that healthy people cost less than sick people,” Mike Fraser said. With a focus on long-term results, the state can save money and, most importantly, improve the health of all Pennsylvanians.
You can learn more about PAMED’s priorities for 2015:
- Your Voice and Advocate in 2015 and Beyond
- Mike Fraser’s Ten “Big Things” for 2015