Why spine surgeons need a voice on The Hill — Dr. John Finkenberg's key thoughts

Written by Mary Rechtoris | April 04, 2016 | Print  | Email

Our nation's top legislators implement policies that mold the healthcare landscape in years to follow. To ensure legislators better understand the ins and outs of the healthcare industry, the North American Spine Society created a strong presence in the White House through its advocacy council director role.

Finkenberg"We realized our voice in Washington is very important and a lot of our members were saying we need to get our voices in front of legislators in a more impressive way," says John Finkenberg, MD, NASS' advocacy council director. "We wanted to let them know why we are frustrated with our system and that our patients are getting a lesser quality of care because of the requirements they put on us."


To advocate for superior patient care, NASS created advocacy councils, several committees and an executive council, which Dr. Finkenberg remarks "elevated advocacy to a whole different level." As chairman of the counsel, Dr. Finkenberg reports to an executive committee and spends a great deal of timing traveling to Washington, D.C, to meet with different congressmen to discuss how legislation can impact physicians' ability to provide their patients with high-quality care.


Whereas many may feel uneasy talking to legislators about policy, Dr. Finkenberg feels at ease because his job is a vital one, representing the interests of not only spine surgeons, but the patients they serve.


As the chairman of the advocacy counsel, Dr. Finkenberg sits on the board of directors with four other council chairmen. The chairman position is a three-year term, and Dr. Finkenberg is currently serving his second term.


"I said to myself I'll maybe be in practice for 10 more years. If I don't become intimately involved in (advocacy) in the course of my remaining career, it'll never happen," he said. "I felt as though I wanted to be a voice for both my patients and myself."


When expressing views to legislators, presentation is everything. A solid idea may fall flat if advocacy leaders do not give a clear, and often an appealing, picture to policymakers.


"The number one thing in our minds is that the quality and care our patients receive has to be paramount," Dr. Finkenberg says. "If you can present why you believe the quality is being decreased by administrative burdens and quality measures legislators are requiring, then all of a sudden, you have their ear."


Going forward, NASS is working with legislators to concentrate on the following key issues:


•    Monitoring the implementation of MACRA and MIPS quality measures
•    Repealing or supporting defunding of Independent Payment Advisory Board
•    Increased transparency on local insurer guidelines that may deny care for patients due to proprietary self-created guidelines that are only shared with the physician after his request is denied
•    Preserving in-office ancillary care that facilitates quick access of the appropriate care for patients
•    Monitoring the Recovery Audit Program
•    Creating more residency slots


Advocacy may seem daunting or time-consuming for spine surgeons who are often juggling managing busy practices with the many reporting requirements CMS mandates. However, advocacy doesn't always entail traveling to and from Washington, D.C. Dr. Finkenberg says local advocacy work is important, and advises those who can't go to Washington to talk to their local congressman, or financially support the advocacy work various groups are doing.


"If you plan to visit the congressman and senator in you district, let them know how things are going and the problems you are facing," he says.  "They are interested in hearing what you have to say. They do listen, they do understand and many are just as frustrated as providers. You are a vote and every vote counts."

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