TAFP’s political arm celebrates 20 years

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TAFP’s political arm celebrates 20 years

Martin, Lambert reflect on TAFPPAC’s beginning and progress

As the Academy ramps up for the 82nd Texas Legislative Session, TAFP celebrates a milestone in family medicine advocacy: the 20th anniversary of the TAFP Political Action Committee. Two TAFP past presidents reflect on this important time: James Martin, M.D., 1989-1990, and C. Tim Lambert, M.D., 1990-1991.

TAFPPAC was founded in 1991 in response to the growing political involvement of individual TAFP members and the realization that family medicine advocacy had a role in the effort to advance medicine on the state level. “While there had been several successful individual efforts in the past, there had been no formal strategic commitment to an overall process,” Martin says.

He references action taken in 1977 when a group of family physicians succeeded in convincing the Texas Legislature to pass House Bill 282, securing state funding for family medicine residency programs through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Those involved included TAFP greats such as Jack Haley, M.D.; Edwin Franks, M.D.; Warren Longmire, M.D.; Thomas Nicholas, M.D.; Chris Ramsey, M.D.; and Bill Ross, M.D.

Fast-forward more than a decade to another group of TAFP leaders and officers, including Martin and Lambert, who would work to form the PAC as it stands today: Barker Stigler, M.D.; Kenneth Davis, M.D.; Lewis Foxhall, M.D.; Roland Goertz, M.D.; and Jim White, then-TAFP executive director.

Through his involvement on the Texas Medical Association Council on Legislation, Lambert had developed a relationship with two big political personalities, Kim Ross and Alfred Gilchrist. “Alfred was really convinced that family medicine was a sleeping giant and that we had more clout than we realized,” he says. “When we started lobbying and got the rider for the funding of the student clerkships, then it became pretty obvious that we needed to do something.”

Sam Nixon, M.D., longtime TAFP leader and TMA president at that time, publicly opposed the formation of a family medicine PAC, saying that it would be in direct competition with TMA’s PAC and divide the house of medicine. But in private conversation, Martin says, “the TMA leadership wanted us to succeed, as they had a policy of always supporting the incumbent and felt that some incumbents were not looking at the health interests of Texas.”

Martin says, “the leadership looked at developing two specific components: identify and develop relationships with existing special interest groups who shared our concerns or whose members would benefit from the success of our legislative efforts, and develop our own ties with legislators either through shared concerns or PAC influence.”

According to Lambert, the biggest issue TAFPPAC championed was workforce, and they approached it from all angles by focusing on increasing interest in family medicine careers in high school and college students, improving the presence of family medicine role models in medical schools, maintaining and improving residency funding, and expanding the availability of doctors in underserved areas of Texas.

Over the years, TAFPPAC membership grew and the group enjoyed many victories—pushing through tort reform to stifle frivolous malpractice lawsuits, advocating for Medicaid and CHIP, fighting attempts by allied health groups to expand their scope of practice, and passing one of the most generous physician education loan repayment programs in the country.

Lambert says leaders and members have learned how much organizations spent in contributions to be a part of the political process, and that to have their voice heard, family physicians had to participate in this practice. However, that’s not why lawmakers respond to family medicine’s message. They’ve paid attention “because we were talking about doing the right thing,” Lambert says. “One thing I always remember and I hope we never forget—we need to be the guys with the white hats. We needed to be fighting the war for our patients and our constituents. That is the most important thing.”

“At this anniversary, it’s a good time for us to remind all of our members that policy is made by those who are at the table. If we’re not at the table, we’re not going to have a say. That’s an important message going forward. There have been a lot of wars fought, a lot of blood and tears shed, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be. We need to keep going.”

For more information on TAFPPAC’s current work, go to www.tafp.org/tafppac.