2014 midterm election

Saturday, November 01, 2014 12:10 PM
Print this page E-mail this page

CMS lobbyist Jerry Johnson applauds physicians’ role

by Jerry Johnson, CMS contract lobbyist

There’s a parable often told by lobbyists as an object lesson on the fundamentals of political engagement: An obviously frustrated and struggling farmer is plowing his field with his prize bull when his neighbor pulls up and offers to loan him his tractor. The farmer steps back from the plow and replies “my tractor works fine. I’m teaching this bull there is more to farming than chasing heifers and knocking over fences.”

Just as with the farmer’s situation, there was more to medicine’s role in this election than making a contribution or having our picture taken with a politician.

COMPAC’s candidate briefing and interview process is a model for professional and trade associations. Local physicians, working with CMS and component society staff, brief candidates on medicine’s priority issues.

The candidate receives a “Candidate Briefing Document” well before the interview that lays out the background on each issue: Colorado’s stable liability climate, health care reform, managed care, scope of practice and so forth. The CMS lobby team is available to answer questions about the issues, in person or by telephone. The interview is conducted at a location in the candidate’s district where possible, or at a component society office, a process led by local physicians.

The interview provides a two-way information flow. Physicians and lobbyists get to “size up” the candidate and hear how he or she thinks about issues. The candidate learns about the passion that physicians have for issues affecting patients and practice.

Rep. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo), now a newly elected member of the State Senate, had this to say about the process. “As a paramedic, I work with physicians all the time. But the interview process was an eye opener. It gave me an early look at the full range of issues affecting health care at the state Capitol. No other group does such a complete interview.”

New Douglas County Rep. Kevin Van Winkle (R) elaborated further saying, “I met with six ADEMS physicians, Susan Koontz and Jerry Johnson for about 90 minutes.  The Candidate Briefing Document was great preparation.  After the interview I had a much better sense of which issues my physicians support – and which ones give them heartburn. What a great learning experience!”

After the interview of both candidates is complete, physicians vote to recommend the endorsement of one of them to the COMPAC board. Occasionally, the local physicians recommend staying out of the race.

During the election cycle just completed, COMPAC endorsed 82 federal and state candidates. Seventy-seven were elected. Our goal is to help them all know or get to know better their local medical community leaders.

The important relationships between elected officials and physicians in their community evolve over time, but they start every election cycle when a candidate or legislator first talks health policy with their medical community at the time they are seeking, or seeking to retain, a seat in the General Assembly.

Once they are in office and the session kicks into high gear, Legislators are swamped, and can’t devote the same bandwidth or attention to issues that are typically complex and require insights not readily apparent to the casual student of health policy.

The COMPAC interview process accomplishes four things.

  1. It jump-starts the learning curve, exposing the candidate to a range of complex issues, often for the first time.
  2. The candidate acquires a pool of physicians in his/her district to rely upon as those issues move through the process.
  3. The number of politically active physicians grows –  those who make the connection between activism, local relationships and public policy.
  4. It establishes a priority list of medicine’s “do’s and don’ts,” which is often enough to deter an elected official from sponsoring or co-sponsoring a bill that physicians oppose. It gives a candidate a clear sense of the bright lines around issues from the perspective of the physician community.  Because of that, legislators often avoid sponsoring or co-sponsoring bills they understand that physicians will oppose, and they will often champion bills physicians support.

Perhaps most important, a candidate who has been through the COMPAC process understands that physicians in his or her community care, and are engaged.

Posted in: Colorado Medicine | Initiatives | Advocacy


Please sign in to view or post comments.