Alberto Bursian: Political Advocacy in Medicine

By Alberto Bursian, MD

When I first began my residency in July 2016, my only goal was to make sure I did no harm. In July 2017, when I was first unpaired, the reality of that goal became very real. Political advocacy was not a thought in my mind, but things started to shift after several discussions with Chris Giordano, MD, about the significance of the medical societies, namely, the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists and the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

My first exposure to organized medicine came during the 2017 American Medical Association interim meeting this past November. I learned about the complexities of policy making while advocating for anesthesiologists. Some of the topics addressed at the meeting included supporting the American Medical Association to address drug shortages, addressing site of service differentials, and expanding out-of-network coverage. It was a great learning experience, but it was not until I attended the Florida Medical Association Legislative Visitation Day that I began to appreciate the influence and significance of organized medicine.

That day was an opportunity for residents and fellows to meet with Florida legislators at the capitol in Tallahassee. I was the sole anesthesiology resident amid a group of radiology, orthopedics, general surgery, internal medicine, neurosurgery, and neurology residents and fellows. We met with representatives Bobby Dubose, Julio Gonzalez, David Silvers, and Patricia Williams, in addition to various aides. We focused our time on advocating for physicians regarding topics such as requiring health insurers to follow a specific time frame and process with prior authorization and fail-first protocols, prohibiting health insurers from retroactively denying a claim at any time if the insurer or HMO verified the eligibility of an insured or subscriber at the time of treatment, and many others. I quickly learned that most legislators have no medical background and therefore have limited understanding of how certain bills will affect physicians and patients. They were very open to hearing us speak and seemed to value our points of view. Most were surprised when they understood how their legislation affects physicians and patients.

As I get ready to begin what I understand to be a very busy and challenging CA-2 year, I realize that I may not have the same opportunities to personally meet with legislators or attend House of Delegates meetings as I did in my CA-1 year. However, I am grateful to know that I can support those who do have the time through small monetary donations to organizations such as the American Society of Anesthesiologists Political Action Committee, which provides direct contributions to pro-anesthesiology (or medicine) incumbents and funds campaigns during political elections. If you have the time, I would encourage you to consider becoming a member of these organizations, building relationships with your legislators, or donating to a political action committee.

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