Former U.S. Congressman Dr. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) recently joined the District Policy Group at Drinker Biddle and Reath as a Senior Advisor. I sat down with him and asked him to share his insights and recommendations as someone who has been on the inside on Capitol Hill.
Now with the SGR seemingly addressed, presuming the Senate passes the bill after spring recess, which health care issue do you think the Congress should prioritize next?
Interoperability of electronic medical records (EMR). As a former physician and policymaker, I am convinced that EMRs have the potential to save both lives and money. If the systems work correctly and can “talk to each other,” doctors and nurses can have and share the information they need to provide patients with the care they need, at the time they need it. When EMRs are highly functioning and deployed well, they can help ensure correct coding and therefore reduce both medical and billing errors, and in turn reduce medical malpractice claims, RAC audits, and waste, fraud and abuse. One of the challenges to implementation is that we cannot have a one-size- fits-all policy that is punitive in nature, punishing rather than providing support and incentives, particularly to independent physicians and those in rural communities. It is important to recognize that there is a cohort of doctors who want to stay in practice, but many are less familiar or not as comfortable with new technology or cannot afford to transition to an electronic system. We need to ensure that as we seek to move the nation to a seamless, interoperable system that we don’t unintentionally push out physicians who want to practice and reduce the number of doctors available, at a time when demographically we need as many practicing as possible.
When you think back to being lobbied on Capitol Hill, who and what come to mind as the most effective people and messages?
One of the most effective approaches was to hear an anecdote – a real-world example or story that illustrated the problem that needed to be fixed. In particular, patient stories – advocates who came to visit during appropriations season who were affected by a particular condition or disease or who were coming on behalf of an affected loved one. They told their stories in a clear, compelling, and personal manner and explained what they wanted and needed from the NIH or CDC. Nothing got my attention more than to hear from affected patients and families – it made me want to do something to help.
What was not effective when people came to visit you and make requests?
If the lobbyists were not knowledgeable about the subject – patients or constituents didn’t need to be experts but the professional lobbyists and government relations folks, we expected them to be well-versed and able to answer questions. If those folks came ill-prepared or had inaccurate information or were not honest about who was with them and who was opposed, if they were not credible, reliable sources and we were not inclined to consider their requests. Also, when people came in with unreasonable requests – asking beyond what realistically could be done. Something way over the top that was not grounded in the current political or fiscal reality typically didn’t have much resonance. Lastly, I would say there is an art to making the ask – you want folks who come visit you to be kind and friendly, but not long-winded and too chatty – you want them to respect your time and know when to move from pleasantries to business.
What do you miss most about being in the Congress?
I really like to help people, and being an elected official afforded me many opportunities to do so, particularly back at home in my district. I felt a great deal of satisfaction in being able to help my constituents through our casework in the district office. It is also what I miss about not practicing medicine – helping people. I really miss the one-on-one serving patients; practicing medicine and delivering babies brought me a great sense of purpose and joy. Being in the U.S. Congress allowed me to move from helping people one at a time to helping groups of people. Now in my new role, I am looking forward to working with organizations, associations, companies, and other businesses to understand the policymaking process and helping them help the patients, people and clients they serve.
Ilisa Halpern Paul is President of the District Policy Group, a boutique health care policy and lobbying practice within Drinker Biddle & Reath.