Being an Advocate Q&A with OSMA Thought Leader, Alan Levy, MD
OSMA Thought Leadership
As we support members in 2021, we’re pleased to share thoughts from OSMA's Chair of the Focused Task Force on State Legislation, Alan Levy, MD, on what it means to be an advocate for Ohio physicians. We also hear his thoughts about the biggest policy issues facing healthcare at both the state and federal level.
Also, join Monica Hueckel and Jennifer Hayhurst of our OSMA team for advocacy and regulatory updates at OSMA's 2021 virtual Symposium—and get details on OSMA's participation with the Ohio COVID-19 Minority Health Strike Force, and more about Ohio physicians addressing health equity and vaccine safety.
Tuesday, March 9 • 11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Learn more & register at: OSMA.org/symposium
Q: How did you first become involved in healthcare advocacy?
A: My interest in advocacy began about a dozen years ago with my specialty organization, Psychiatry, when we were opposing legislation that would expand scope of practice to enable psychologists to prescribe medication.
I got involved because I knew those who supported this legislation would provide legislators with inaccurate information, which might lead to legislative decisions that might endanger Ohio's citizens. With my position, I felt compelled to provide a different message. As I participated in the legislative process, initially with my specialty organization, but soon after with OSMA, I became increasingly impressed with the influence we wield with legislators and how important our voice is in protecting our patients' interests.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a healthcare advocate?
A: I see myself as primarily an advocate for the safe and effective medical care of our patients. While advocating for our profession is part of it, we are most effective with the legislature when we are our patients' advocates.
Legislators look to physicians and the government relations representatives of healthcare organizations to help them understand healthcare policy, the bills that facilitate best patient care and policy that provides for safe patient care. While well-intentioned, legislators can sometimes recommend bills that inadvertently interfere with the doctor-patient relationship or compromise effective care. Our insights and explanations help prevent bad bills from passing and facilitate the success of bills that improve healthcare in Ohio.
Q: What are some of the biggest policy issues facing healthcare at both the state and federal level?
A: The most important healthcare policies that impact our patients and our profession are local. That's why the Focused Task Force on State Legislation (FTFSL) is so important and why OSMA puts so much emphasis on state legislation rather than federal resolutions.
I think the single most important issue facing healthcare today is access to care. That's why my committee colleagues and I have advocated so strongly to encourage telehealth legislation that will enable audio and video telemedicine service be approved and reimbursed even after COVID is no longer the threat it is today. Expanding telehealth makes sense for a number of reasons – it improves access to care for those with transportation issues, those living in rural communities, and those with jobs or other responsibilities making it hard to schedule or keep appointments. The greater and continued utilization of telemedicine deflates the argument that scope of practice (for APRNs and others) needs to expand in order to serve Ohio's citizens. Additionally, Removing administrative obstacles, such as step therapy and prior-auth requirements, frees up physician time for patient care.
Q: How is OSMA working to advocate on behalf of Ohio physicians on these important issues? What are the legislative priorities for OSMA in 2021?
A: The OSMA government relations team works tirelessly to develop the relationships with legislators, which give them the opportunities needed to express medicine's voice on these issues. Repeated conversations around telemedicine, scope of practice and the importance of safe, effective patient care allows most legislators to know our position even before OSMA steps into their office.
There are a number of members of the FTFSL who regularly engage with their legislators regarding these same issues, and periodic letter-writing requests from OSMA to the membership to advocate our position is really effective when utilized. Fortunately, OSMA makes it easy for us to do this by providing letter templates and tools, so all that's necessary is to sign (and for those of us who already have a relationship with our legislator, add a personalized paragraph)...it couldn't be easier. They also represent us at fundraising functions using our all-important PAC contributions. Giving to the PAC really helps OSMA continue to have a seat at the table.
Q: How has COVID-19 changed the healthcare policy landscape? And how have you seen OSMA pivot to ensure the voice of Ohio physicians are heard in the policy debates around COVID-19?
A: If there's a silver lining to COVID, it's that it's facilitated the utilization of telemedicine and has made everyone aware of how effective this form of healthcare delivery can be.
While clearly not appropriate for all healthcare, the opportunity to "see" patients remotely has enabled physicians to continue to provide necessary care at a time patients are often afraid to leave the house. No-shows and cancellations have been reduced, follow-up phone calls can be reimbursed, and patient compliance with needed medical care has been enhanced. I hope this continues after COVID.
Some of the downsides we have seen throughout COVID are the arguments over the best ways to minimize risk of COVID, challenges to Department of Health recommendations, policy over vaccine delivery, and fear by some of the vaccine. When OSMA participates in the conversation regarding solutions with hospitals, government officials, churches and other community members, we make an important contribution to helping all of us make sound decisions.
Q: Even as the population begins to receive vaccines and we start to turn the corner on the pandemic, how do you see COVID-19 continuing to impact healthcare policy over the next several years?
A: It's likely, with viral mutations, incomplete immunity, and continued vaccine-reluctance among some in society, the threat from COVID will not soon be extinguished. Policies that expand utilization of telemedicine, improve access to effective mental health care as stress weighs on our citizens, and ensure safe healthcare practices to minimize risk on contagion will be critical. As we continue through the pandemic, it is important for physicians and OSMA to continue to have a voice with legislators, and the public through the media, to educate and support those who are ill as well as their families.
Q: What is the best way for OSMA members to make their voices heard on healthcare policies at the state and federal level, and advocate for a healthier Ohio for all?
A: Get to know your legislators. We all have a representative and state senator who are eager to hear from us and learn from us. For those who are unsure of how to start meeting your legislator, the OSMA government relations team would be happy to get you started and accompany you. After the first time, it becomes a breeze. Remember, we're most effective when we're advocating for our patients. Policymakers need and want to hear our voice. And our individual voices are magnified by OSMA.