Twenty-one days on the road and 17,200 miles travelled since Labor Day.
Stops in Wichita, Kansas; Lead, South Dakota; Osage Beach, Missouri; Charleston, South Carolina, Phoenix, Arizona; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Stowe, Vermont; and Rochester, Minnesota. Coming up next: 4000 miles and four days in Houston, Texas, followed shortly by a return to the Lone Star state, and then Sacramento, California. Upcoming early next year: Las Vegas, Nevada; Tyson's Corner, Virginia; and Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
No, this isn't the itinerary for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. It is what I have been doing since Labor Day, meeting with physicians, mainly at ACP chapter meetings, to talk about health care reform.
Keeping in mind Will Roger's truism that "This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer" shouldn't I instead remain in Washington, keeping an eye on Congress? Well, no. Although my job is to represent the interests of internists in Washington, D.C., I feel that I can't do that effectively if I don't spend time meeting with internists. We have a top-notch advocacy staff in D.C. that keeps me informed about everything, and modern technology allows me to be a mouse click from being (virtually) on the scene.
I mention all of this because some commentators on this blog have taken me and ACP to task for not listening to its members. I don't take it personally or defensively, but I doubt that there is anyone else who has listened to as many internists, in as many different places, as I have in the past three months.
What have I learned? First, I have not encountered a single instance of an ACP member reacting with "town hall" style hostility to my explanations of the ACP's views on health reform. This is not to say I found uniformity; internists, like the American people generally, have a wide and diverse range of views.
Like the young Med-Ped physician who I met with in South Dakota, who believes with all of his heart and soul that the current bills will lead to a loss of liberty, crushing taxes and debt, and government rationing of services. Like the ACP member in Vermont, who believes with all of his heart and soul that only a government-financed, not-for-profit, single payer system can provide Americans with equitable and affordable care. These ACP members, and many like them, are at polar opposites on the political spectrum, yet they expressed their views to me with civility and with a high degree respect for the ACP.
Internists' views also differ depending on where they live, but not as much as one might expect. Physicians in "red states" like Kansas and South Carolina are more likely to be concerned about the plans being developed in Washington, and those in "blue" states like Minnesota and Vermont are more likely to support them. But you find a range in all regions. In Charleston, SC, for instance, the first question to me came from a conservative doctor who was concerned that ACP was in favor of "government-run" health care, while the very next question was from a single payer proponent.
The most common sentiments I've encountered are confusion about what is in the bills; general agreement with ACP's views; hopefulness that the reforms will improve things; and anxiety that they could make things worse. To address the confusion, ACP continues to update its resources for ACP members, including a new snapshot tool that compares the new House health reform bill with ACP policies.
I have come away from my travels encouraged that most internists want health care reform, and that they place a high degree of confidence and trust in the ACP to do the right thing, an obligation I take very seriously. I am committed to continuing my efforts to listen to as many internists as possible, but even though I am listening, it doesn't mean I will always agree with you.
Today's question: Do you feel that there is "common ground" in internists' views on health care reform and of ACP?