ASMBS Obesity Political Action Committee: Where We Are and Where We are Going

| November 1, 2017

This column is dedicated to sharing the vast knowledge and opinions of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery leadership—past and present—on relevant topics in the field of bariatric surgery

Ask the Leadership with Raul J. Rosenthal, MD, FACS, FASMBS

This month’s interview with: John M. Morton, MD, MPH, FACS,FASMBS

John M. Morton, MD, MPH, FACS, FASMBS, is Chief of the Section of Bariatric and Minimally Invasive Surgery, Stanford University, Stanford, California, and Past President, American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Funding: No funding was provided in the preparation of this manuscript.

Disclosures: The author reports no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this article.

Bariatric Times. 2017;14(11):22–23.

What is the Obesity Political Action Committee (PAC)? Are you getting the participation you need?

Dr. Morton: The PAC is the first political action committee devoted to obesity. It is just for American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons (ASMBS) members and their spouses.

We set an initial goal to get at least five-percent participation from the ASMBS membership, and we’ve surpassed that with eight-percent participation. We also aimed for 100-percent participation from our executive council, which we’ve also achieved. We would like to improve participation from our state chapter presidents and committee chairs, from whom we currently have about 65-percent participation. We’d like to see 100-percent participation from these groups because we want all of our leadership to be deeply involved in our endeavors. We have also surpassed our goal of raising $100,000, which has allowed us to make financial donations to 12 political candidates from all over the country who are supportive of our cause.

Do you have specific plans for the PAC during Obesity Week?

Dr. Morton: Yes. We will be hosting a PAC reception during Obesity Week that we plan to do annually moving forward. This high-level event will be in honor of our donors, and ASMBS members can expect a fun, social atmosphere with great food and drink in a great location. This year, the Obesity PAC 2017 reception will feature Senator Mark Warner, and will be held November 1, 2017, 6:30pm to 8:30pm, at the Gaylord Resort, National Harbor in Potomac Room 6. This reception will serve as a fundraiser and provide an opportunity for us to learn more about our state representatives and members of the Senate and become better informed regarding healthcare initiatives in Washington. It’s also an opportunity for the politicians to learn more about the ASMBS and our goals as an organization. We hope that by sponsoring these events annually for the next 5 to 10 years in each host city of Obesity Week, we will gain the support of a very geographically diverse group of like-minded politicians from around the country that can help further our mission of fighting the disease of obesity. Last year, we hosted a fundraiser for Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who also happens to be a gastroenterologist. It was a very successful event, and Dr. Cassidy has become a very prominent figure in healthcare reform who provides us with a voice in Washington.

In addition to our reception, we’ll sponsor several advocacy events during Obesity Week that include visits to Capitol Hill. We are proud to sponsor a special speech during Obesity Week by Maine Governor Paul LePage, who received bariatric surgery from PAC Member Dr. Jamie Loggins. Additionally, we will be presenting our annual Advocacy Award during this year’s ASMBS LEAD Awards luncheon. Last year, we presented this award to Dr. Christopher Joyce, Medical Director of Bariatric & Minimally Invasive Surgery at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Joyce was instrumental in eliminating the pre-op weight loss requirement of Illinois Blue Cross. This year, we will be presenting Advocacy Awards to Dr. Joseph Chelbi from Venice Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Venice, Florida, and Dr. Michael “Mickey” Segar from the Bariatric Medical Institute of Texas in San Antonio. Drs. Chelbi and Segar are being recognized for their efforts in changing state mandates to include bariatric surgery in diabetes and obesity treatment plans.

In 2015, you pointed out that high deductibles, coverage denial, and discriminatory benefit design were common barriers to obtaining proper healthcare in 27 states. In 2017, do these obstacles still exist?

Dr. Morton: Unfortunately, these obstacles do still exist in many areas of the United States. We have made some progress—eliminating Blue Cross’s pre-op weight loss requirement in Illinois and in other states is one example. But healthcare coverage decisions are made by each individual state, and we must identify and focus our efforts on those states where barriers to healthcare are most prevalent. The long story is, it’s not a single battle; it’s an ongoing war that requires vigilance, dedication, and resources. We all know that medicine is now a government enterprise in many ways. It’s regulated by the government, and the government pays for about 70 percent of medical care via Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs, as well as for federal and state employees. So, it is important that we are heard by federal and state governments. The best way to do this in the United States is through advocacy, and we must have the resources to effectively advocate for our patients, not only on Capitol Hill, but also on the state level. PAC is a critical component of obtaining the resources necessary for effective advocacy, and I’m very grateful for all the support and donations the members of ASMBS have given to PAC.

It sounds like you’re encouraged by the progress PAC has made since its launch in 2015.

Dr. Morton: Yes, and it continues to gain momentum. We formed PAC because meetings and letters weren’t getting us anywhere. We asked ourselves, “What else is there for us to do?” And the answer was PAC. Through PAC, we have been able to create interesting initiatives on the state level. For example, as mentioned before, in Florida, Dr. Chelbi introduced a bill for the inclusion of bariatric surgery in diabetes and obesity treatment plans, and that bill is currently working its way through the legislature. And in Texas, Dr. Segar was able to introduce a bill for coverage of bariatric surgery (the bill, unfortunately was voted down, but it got very far in the legislative process, which encourages us to keep fighting for its implementation). Drs. Chelbi and Segar were able to get these bills on the table because through the cooperation of their state representatives, who were able to offer their support because of donations from PAC.

What do you see in the future for PAC?

Dr. Morton: We’re hoping to partner with PACs from other associations around the country, including the American College of Surgeons and industry PACs. By having a common mission and working together, we will all be stronger and more effective in achieving positive changes in healthcare. There’s a heck of a lot more for us to do in bariatric medicine. I think the field of bariatric surgery can teach the other disciplines of medicine many lessons regarding healthcare, such as the benefits of medical professionals working as a team and providing quality care at a low cost. If the other disciplines of medicine start applying the lessons we’ve learned to their practice, everybody will be better off.

 

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