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November 2009 Issue

Earlier this fall, Florence Rothenberg, MD, and two fellows traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss cardiology-related reform issues with lawmakers. She says the group’s efforts successfully resulted in abolishing a key amendment that would have caused “fractured care.”
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UC Faculty Travel to Washington, D.C., to Discuss, Support Health Care Reform

By Katie Pence
Published November 2009

Health care reform has become a key phrase in households across the nation, not to mention within the media and among our nation’s leaders.

It’s no different at UC, where doctors from all specialties have been traveling to Washington, D.C., to share their ideas about health care reform with those at the forefront of the debate.

Peter Embi, MD, associate professor of medicine and informatics director at UC, was chosen to participate in a health care reform meeting in early October.

Embi, a rheumatologist, was one of roughly 150 physicians asked to attend this special event with President Barack Obama, held in the White House Rose Garden.

“At a time when health insurance reform is so close to becoming a reality, I was honored to be called and asked to participate in an event that impacts this important issue.” Embi says. “Our current health care system just isn’t working for many patients. Far too many are uninsured or underinsured and that results in people frequently going without adequate health care.”

Embi regularly sees patients with arthritis and other diseases of the immune system at UC and at the Cincinnati Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center.

“Many of my patients with chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis benefit greatly from treatments that we have today,” he says.

“When I treat veterans, I know I can get them the treatments they need without concern that they won’t be able to afford it because the VA covers their care.

“Unfortunately in other practice settings, my colleagues and I often see patients, even those with health insurance, who can’t get certain tests or treatments they need just because they can’t afford high co-pays that may amount to thousands of dollars a year.

“To see someone’s severe arthritis flare back up just because they can’t afford a treatment that was working for them is tragic and shouldn’t be allowed. That’s one of the many things that we need to change.”

Embi also says health information technology is one of the key elements to improving the health care system.

“Accelerating the adoption and optimal use of health IT is a critical part of making our health care system efficient and effective,” he says. “Good information is what physicians and patients need to make good decisions. Without it and the systems that support it, doctors are less efficient at best, and can make bad decisions at worst.

“I’m pleased that the president and our legislators have recognized this and are including incentives for the meaningful use of health IT in this reform effort.”

In addition to participating in this White House event, Embi has also spoken to Ohio’s congressional representatives as recently as last May as part of a delegation with the American College of Rheumatology. But Embi isn’t alone in these discussions.

Florence Rothenberg, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and cardiologist, along with two UC fellows, Faisal Khan, MD, and Salman Siddiqui, MD, traveled to a legislative conference in D.C. in September to discuss cardiology-related reform issues before senators George Voinovich and  Sherrod Brown and representatives Steve Driehaus, Mary Jo Kilroy and Jean Schmidt.

The conference was sponsored by the American College of Cardiology (ACC). Rothenberg says the meeting is held annually, but there were several issues on the table that made this year especially important for cardiologists.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services incorporated data collected by the American Medical Association (AMA) that would have had devastating consequences for cardiology practices,” she says.

“A survey was performed by the AMA in 2007 that used data from a very small subset of cardiologists. If this data was used to calculate reimbursements from Medicare, nearly 91 percent of cardiologists surveyed by the ACC would have had to eliminate or severely reduce their practices, and 12 percent would have had to retire.”

Rothenberg says besides UC, the Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth Hospitals of Cleveland and representatives from several private practices across the state of Ohio were in attendance.

Educational efforts such as these, she says, have resulted in the abolishment of a key amendment that would have disallowed cardiologists to perform cardiac testing and imaging in their offices, resulting in what she calls “fractured care.”

“If approved, this amendment would result in delayed and fractured medical care,” she says. “The discussions were necessary to let our voices be heard. It’s important for physicians and patients to speak out now on health care reform issues.

“I am in support of health care reform, but I am primarily in support of quality medical care.” 

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