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Dr. Smith goes to Washington
OU-COM students and clinical faculty advocate for health care reform in Congress

By Mary Reed

When Starla Lyles, OMS I, put on her white coat and made rounds April 24, she wasn’t in a hospital or clinic, but on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Lyles joined more than 40 OU-COM students and clinical faculty—and more than 800 others from across the U.S.—at D.O. Day on the Hill. This national lobbying event, coordinated by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), brings together D.O.s and osteopathic medical students to advocate for health care policy reform.

“We had an opportunity to actually talk to our representatives and senators … they listened; they had an open ear,” said Lyles, political affairs chair for the OU-COM chapter of the Student Osteopathic Medical Association.

In D.C., the students met with Sen. Sherrod Brown and with an aide to Rep. Charlie Wilson, both Ohio democrats. Among other topics, D.O. Day participants pressed representatives to sign a letter supporting the Save Medicare Act of 2008, which would halt the 10.6 percent cut in physician reimbursements slated to go into effect July 1, followed by another five percent cut in January 2009.

According to Peter Bell, D.O., the issue is not how much doctors are paid, but for what. “Medicare rewards doing things without compensating preventive care efforts or rewarding greater quality of care,” said Bell, a CORE assistant dean at both Doctors Hospital and Grandview Medical Center.

Bell explained that Medicare, America’s largest health care purchaser, pays hospitals and doctors a fixed sum to perform a specific procedure or treat a condition. Failing to provide preventive care or adequate early treatment can increase the need for such Medicare-reimbursed services later on. As a result, low quality of care is actually rewarded.

“In our country, we have a patchwork of health care solutions. What we need is a well-woven blanket,” Bell said. “As physicians, we need to understand the weaknesses of the system and offer realistic, sustainable suggestions.”

Lyles coordinated her and her classmates’ D.C. trip this year, with transportation and accommodations funded by the Ohio Osteopathic Association (OOA).

“The OOA believes it is very important for D.O.s to serve as health policy advocates for their patients and their communities,” said Jon Wills, OOA executive director. “We want students to actively participate in the legislative process, so they will continue to speak out on important issues when they become physicians.”

This year’s D.O. Day on the Hill drew 852 osteopathic physicians and students to the nation’s capital. “The event helps students understand how Congress impacts the practice of medicine,” said Leann Fox, AOA director of federal advocacy. “Students are growing more aware that grassroots advocacy is key to ensuring that the rules and regulations governing medicine are made with their input and with the understanding that the physician-patient relationship must be protected.”

Imran Akbar, OMS II, helped prepare his fellow students for the big day by coordinating the college’s 2008 Policy Puzzle—a series of lunchtime seminars that cover topics such as health care costs, access to health care, physician reimbursements and the State Children’s Health Care Program (SCHIP), which was the focus of last year’s D.O. Day on the Hill.

Akbar attended the event last year and wanted to encourage more students to get involved for 2008. “My goal (for Policy Puzzle) was to get more students excited about the democratic process and more aware of important health care issues,” he said. “Until you’ve done (D.O. Day), you don’t realize how accessible our government is. When you leave, you have a newfound respect for the process, and it beckons you to engage.”

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Last updated: 01/28/2016