New AAFP president: Top priority is securing higher physician payments
Ada D. Stewart, MD, FAAFP, the recently sworn-in president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that increasing payments to family medicine and primary care doctors is her top priority.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how flawed the fee-for-service system is for primary care physicians and family medicine doctors,” she told Healio Primary Care. “Therefore, my biggest objective is to sustain these practices by increasing the payments these physicians receive.”
Stewart, who is also a family physician and HIV specialist with Cooperative Health in Columbia, South Carolina, discussed her other ambitions, how her professional and volunteer experiences have prepared her for the role and the significance of being one of the few Black female presidents of a national medical society.
Q: What are your priorities for the AAFP?
A: COVID-19 has shown that many physicians cannot perform routine procedures and have had to close. I was furloughed and had to take off 1 day a week without pay so that my practice could survive. This has shown me that the fee-for-service system, based on volume and procedures, needs to be changed. For years, family medicine and primary care have been undervalued, and it is high time that we fight for payment reform that includes a system that is based on value and these physicians are rewarded for keeping their patients healthy.
We also want to remove the prior authorization requirements that family medicine and primary care doctors face. Studies have shown that for every hour that we spend in the office taking care of a patient, we are spending 2 to 3 hours on their electronic medical record and trying to get medications and procedures authorized for them. Consequently, some patients have gone without their medications or not had a procedure approved in a timely manner. This extra work is also a factor in physician burnout. I too, have been burdened with this particular issue and it has to stop.
We also have to fight to keep the telehealth payment parity in effect beyond the current pandemic, and that it continues to include phone visits, since some patients cannot use a computer, or they do not have minutes on their internet plan or they don’t have the bandwidth.
Another priority is to continue fighting for funding to help our teaching health centers. These centers provide health care to the most vulnerable populations and to our patients in rural areas. In addition, if we do not get long-term funding for these centers, the family medicine and primary care workforce is going to be in jeopardy, putting our patients in jeopardy.
Q: How will you achieve these objectives?
A: I have one voice, and I will use that voice to advocate for our specialty. But wehe voices of all family medicine and primary care doctors. We're continuing to encourage letter-writing campaigns where we tell our stories to legislators to make them understand how this hurts our patients, our practices and our communities.
Q: How is AAFP helping family medicine physicians and PCPs overcome the financial hardships caused by the COVID‐19 pandemic?
A: We are doing or will do a number of things to make sure that we are their No. 1 resource during this pandemic. We provided online resources to help our members apply for the Paycheck Protection loan program as well as guidance on billing and coding for COVID-related services to help practices remain financially solvent during this challenging time.
We offered free CME and extended our membership period, so that our members did not have to worry about paying for these things. That has helped a lot of our members get through this crisis.
We also making sure our website has all the information our members could need when it comes to administering and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, when and if one becomes available.
Q: What have you learned from your experiences in the U.S. Army Reserve that helps you as a physician?
A: I remember staring at the television during the tragedies of September 11, 2001, and wondering what I can do to help. I was blessed to have Army recruiters come around to discuss its residency program and talk about opportunities to serve as I did during my residency. I thought I’d only serve the minimum 4 years. But here it is almost 18 years later, and I am still serving.
Since joining, I have gained greater appreciation of what it takes to be a leader. This experience has also given me the courage to stand and fight for principles that are not only important to me, but to others as well. I have also been able to enhance my leadership skills, my communication skills and my advocacy skills.
Q: You have been involved with the AMA, the National Medical Association and the American Medical Women’s Association. W hat does it mean to be one of the few Black, female presidents of a national medical society?
A: It is an honor, privilege and unique opportunity to be the first, but I do not want to be the last. It also gives me hope that our society is becoming more open, diverse and inclusive.
I stand on the shoulders of others, such as Patrice Harris, MD, who recently finished her tenure as AMA’s first female Black president. I look to her and many others as role models to move the AAFP’s agenda forward so that it can be.. I will also work to be a role model for future AAFP leaders. The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg talked about women belonging in places where decisions are made. Hopefully, with my being elected to this position, I will lead the way for other Black women to follow.