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Engagement Makes a Difference – Remembering the Physician Tax Rally

Engagement Makes a Difference – Remembering the Physician Tax Rally

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

It was an October not unlike this one.  The weather in Lansing had turned cooler.  Republicans and Democrats were still trying to navigate divided government in the state Capitol.  Physicians from across the state were using their voices to change the legislative landscape over a critical bill in the House and Senate that would make a real and lasting difference for Michigan patients.

10 years ago this October, nearly 800 Michigan physicians arrived in Lansing for a landmark legislative battle, supported by thousands of others in districts back home.  That October, they proved that when Michigan physicians stand together and speak out, they can make an incredible difference.

It’s a lesson that’s more important to remember than ever, as providers across the state begin the fight to protect their patients by reforming prior authorization and step therapy requirements, and tell their lawmakers that Health Can’t Wait.

A decade ago, Lansing was considering legislation to tax physicians in order to generate $300 million in new revenue for the state’s Medicaid program, but in the process, the bill would have devastated the state’s health care system.

“Combined with current economic stresses, the proposed tax sends an additional negative message to every physician trained in Michigan and reduces our ability to recruit and retain sufficient physician workforce to take care of our patients,” warned Nancy Schlichting, then the President and CEO of the Henry Ford Health System.

The tax would have reduced the state’s ability to attract and retain physicians.

It would have forced older physicians to retire early and pushed younger physicians into other states.

It would have limited or reduced patients’ access to care.

The tax would have caused layoffs for essential health care staff, including nurses, office administrators, and navigators who helped patients deal with billing and insurance issues.

Every citizen in the state was set to suffer the consequences of the physician tax, access to quality health care on the verge of diminishing. 

But the battle was only beginning.  In an incredible display of commitment to their patients and their practices, on October 20, 2009, the state’s physician community stood up and spoke out.  Doctors traveled from across Michigan to rally on the steps of the state Capitol, urging lawmakers to abandon the disastrous health care tax hike. 

Back at home, countless others called their lawmakers, sent letters to their local newspapers, invited legislators to visit their offices, and spoke with the media to defend their patients.

"As America debates reforming our health care system, Lansing is working to tax it. What's wrong with this picture?" asked then-MSMS president Richard E. Smith, MD, a Detroit obstetrician/gynecologist. "This tax would hurt patients' access to doctors in communities all across our state. The State House was wrong to pass it; the State Senate will do right by stopping it."

Overwhelmed by pressure from MSMS members, and physicians from more than 30 specialty societies and county medical societies, that’s exactly what they did. 

The state Senate by a staggering and bipartisan 32-4 vote rejected the health care tax. They didn’t do it because it was easy.  They did it because doctors and providers stood up and spoke out.

In 2019, just ten years later, Michigan physicians are embarking on another landmark effort to improve patients’ access to care. 

The fight to reform prior authorization and step therapy burdens, to simplify access for Michigan patients is just beginning.  Helping lawmakers understand that Health Can’t Wait won’t be easy, and it’s going to take all hands on deck.

We’ve done it before.  Together, we can make change happen and ensure that better than ever, Michigan health care policy puts the needs of Michigan patients first.