Contact: Richard Gulla
Boston – April 30 – Massachusetts Medical Society President Richard Pieters, M.D., in his report to members at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Society, cited the Society’s significant accomplishments in addressing major issues that faced physicians and the practice of medicine over the last year. Specifically, he noted MMS advocacy efforts with Medicare payments, meaningful use, and the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth.
“This was the House of Medicine at its best,” said Dr. Pieters, in referring to the repeal of the Sustained Growth Rate formula for Medical payments. “For more than 17 years, physicians worked patiently, passionately, and powerfully to reverse a law that everyone knew was a bad idea almost from the time it took effect.” In expressing the reasons for the repeal, Dr. Pieters noted that it was “because of the deep commitment from the physicians of Massachusetts and the resilience of our colleagues across the country.”
At the state level, Dr. Pieters cited the ability of the Society to achieve reasonable regulations for standards of meaningful use in technology, avoiding an onerous proposal that would have tied those standards to licensure requirements. “We now have a set of rules,” Dr. Pieters said, “that fulfill the law’s purpose without creating chaos in the health care system.”
A second area of accomplishment at the state level that Dr. Pieters noted was the improvement made in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), a vital tool in the struggle against the state’s opioid epidemic. MMS advocacy efforts limited the PMP’s expansion to first-time prescriptions of Schedule II and III opioids and benzodiazepines and provided for the addition of designated associates to use the PMP, thereby reducing the administrative burden on physicians.
“The Prescription Monitoring Program still poses many challenges,” Dr. Pieters said, “most of them technical in origin. But these can be addressed, and we’re having productive conversations with the Department of Public Health to deal with those challenges.”
Addressing the opioid epidemic, Dr. Pieters restated the Society’s goal “to help reduce the number of heroin overdoses in the Commonwealth” and help our elected officials look for answers. But he issued a caution.
“We must also ensure,” he said, that patients who legitimately need pain medications are not harmed by excessive regulations and legislation. We have been arguing that opioid policy must be rooted in evidence, not anecdote.”
Noting the positive step that the legislature has taken in improving patient access to addiction and recovery services, Dr. Pieters also said “we need help from the legislators and regulators. We need ready access for our patients to the effective alternatives to opioids for pain management, and the insurers must pay for them at least as readily as they do prescriptions. And we need them to understand why we do what we do, and to fix regulations that lead to what is perceived as overprescribing.”
“Effective management of this epidemic,” Dr. Pieters continued, “will require a rational, evidence-based approach that balances the professional and ethical duty of physicians to allay pain and suffering against the risks of addiction and diversion. Our role in the debate has never been more clear.”
“Just yesterday,” Dr. Pieters said, “the Attorney General and the Governor of Massachusetts spent more than an hour with your president and other officers. We had an intense and serious conversation, and more than once, they asked us, ‘what can we do today?’ We want to help them find the answers.”
Dr. Pieters ended his remarks focusing on the issue of continuing education of physicians, noting the controversy over maintenance of certification and the rise in continuing medical education requirements.
“Physicians must stay up-to-date on the evolving science, and we have a responsibility to provide the public with assurances that this is happening. But this accountability must be rational and it must be reasonable.”
Citing the actions that the ABIM has taken to reassess the process of maintenance of certification, Dr. Pieters said “It’s clear to me that coordinated action by the American Medical Association, state societies and specialty societies represent our best opportunity to improve the situation.”
At the state level, Dr. Pieters said “we must also work here in Massachusetts to stop the growing trend to throw a Continuing Medical Education requirement at every problem in Medicine. These requirements have multiplied over the last ten years, and they don’t necessarily solve any problems. This is yet another area where the collective voice of physicians can change things for the better.”