Physicians in Congress can shape healthcare policy

As healthcare becomes even more important in American politics, the number of doctors in Congress is on the rise, which could play a huge role in shaping the country's healthcare future, according to a Health Affairs blog post.

Only 25 doctors served in Congress at various times from 1960 to 2004. But now 20 doctors hold seats in the 113th Congress and their experiences can shape policy, write blog post authors Brian W. Powers, an M.D. candidate at Harvard Medical School and Sachin H. Jain, M.D., a lecturer in healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School.

Doctors in Congress bring real-life experience to policy development and provide insight into what patients and providers need, the post argues. When healthcare legislation fails to consider the medical practice realities, physician representatives can offer up ideas that are more realistic and better grasp the incentives created during national health reforms, as well as sponsor legislation that is more widely accepted in the medical community.

Furthermore, they bring a sense of trust and honor into political office. The authors cite an Angus Reid poll, which found 90 percent of Americans have a "great deal" or "fair amount" of respect for doctors, far beyond lawyers or business executives. Furthermore, they write a 2009 Gallup poll showed the public had more confidence in physicians than anyone else to recommend the right reforms for the U.S. healthcare system.

Physician influence was particularly clear in 2002 when then-Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-Tenn.), a former transplant surgeon, introduced the Organ Donation and Recovery Improvement Act, which established $25 million in federal funding for organ donation promotion. The bill passed Congress almost unanimously and was signed into law in 2004.

Physician input may also help promote pragmatic, patient-based legislation beyond the Affordable Care Act, they write. For example, Michael Burgess, M.D., (R-Texas), an obstetrician with a master's degree in medical management, called for Congress to repeal the Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. Last year he introduced the Medicare Patient Access and Quality Improvement Act, which passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee with bipartisan support and formed the core of a bipartisan, bicameral plan for SGR reform (H.R. 4015), which he sponsored and introduced in early February.

Physician leadership, Powers and Jain write, is crucial to the success of healthcare reform legislation, including health information technology implementation, graduate medical education financing and Medicare coverage. 

To learn more:
- here's the blog post
- check out the Angus Reid poll
- read the Gallup poll