By Scott Scutchfield, MD
If not you, who? If not now, when?
Recently, when I asked a fellow faculty member for a contribution to support a local candidate for Congress, he responded, “Why me?” Why indeed should physicians get involved in supporting congressional candidates or in running for office themselves?
Local, state, and federal laws and regulations control everything we as physicians and surgeons and our staff do on a daily basis, and healthcare reform will likely increase that control. I read that the federal rules and regulations concerning the practice of medicine, if stacked up, would be twice as high as all the rules and regulations associated with the Internal Revenue Service. If our practices are governed so tightly by regulations, shouldn’t we be actively trying to shape those laws?
Healthcare delivery is one of the most expensive items in the national budget, accounting for approximately 15 percent of the gross national product. Many groups—hospitals, insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry—have strong financial interests in how that money is spent. If we do not fight for our patients and our own self interests, who will? Orthopaedic surgeons are a family as well as a profession, and we must protect that family and its interests just as surely as we protect our own family members.
What to do
As a health policy advisor to both a congressman and governor, I would like to share several points about successful political involvement that I have learned firsthand.
The chances of your being able to influence a politician increase if you have a personal relationship with that person. There are as many self-interest groups as there are people, and they all try to influence the system in their favor. They write letters, phone, send e-mails, and finally show up in the politician’s office to promote their points of interest. They’re constantly parading in and out of a congressional representative’s or governor’s office. The individuals who get the politician’s ear, time, and favor are those who have taken the time to work for and with the person who will make the decisions.
In your own life, who is it that you listen to, give to, or help? It’s the person who has done the same for you; to make a friend you must be a friend. As John T. Gill, MD, points out in “Getting to the top of the political pyramid,” developing that relationship is really not as hard as it sounds.
How to do it
As a previous candidate, I know what really matters to people running for office. Although the public tends to look down on politicians, most people who run for office do so with the best intentions and deserve our respect. Running for office is one of the hardest, most demanding, and challenging things I have ever done. As in any pressure situation, sincere helpers are most appreciated.
Keep in mind that most politicians start at a lower level and work their way up. Be on the look-out for future bright stars—the earlier you start working with a candidate the better. If you begin by helping your candidate in the primary, you’ll be a solid member of the team by the time the general election takes place.
Money is, unfortunately, the mother’s milk of political campaigns. Television spots have the most influence on voters, but they are also very expensive. Candidates spend up to half their time calling voters and asking for contributions; even congressmen spend up to 3 hours per day making these calls. At a minimum, you should pledge your own money to your candidate’s campaign, but helping the candidate raise funds is even more important.
There are many effective ways to raise money: writing letters; serving as a fundraiser sponsor; holding a fundraiser yourself; bringing your candidate’s name to any political action committees (PACs) you support; and personally asking friends and colleagues to contribute to the campaign. Being a county or regional finance chairman is even better.
I have found that a personal phone call is by far the most effective way to ask for support—most people don’t like to say no to such a personal request, even if they aren’t sure about the candidate. Volunteering—working at campaign headquarters, going door to door, and even stuffing envelopes—is greatly appreciated and will get you noticed if you are a regular. If you don’t have the time to personally volunteer, recruit your spouse or your children to help. Simply contact the candidate’s campaign office or staff to get started.
Willingness to give of your time and money will earn you a lifelong friend who might in the future be a major influence in the political processes that affect your life. It’s been my experience that this individual will always take your call or make time to visit with you in person. You may not always get what you want, but you will be a player in the larger sense of things. You will be called upon for both advice and support, making you someone who is taking care of his or her professional family. Get started today!
Scott Scutchfield, MD, is a member of the AAOS Advocacy Resource Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com