A Rough and Tumble Time for Women in Texas

What a week! If you’ve been following the epic battle over abortion legislation in Texas like me, you may be feeling exhilarated and inspired by the developments there. What Texas women have done is remarkable. They’ve thrown a hand in the face of legislators who are trying to regulate what goes on behind closed doors, in the privacy of a doctor’s office, between a patient and her doctor. Women have made it known—loud and clear—how they feel about TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws being passed on their turf, and the Texas Legislature couldn’t help but listen.

During this pivotal moment in time, we at ACOG raised our voices along with the women in Texas. We denounced these unnecessary bills, making it clear that scientific facts are important, that politicians should get out of our exam rooms, and reiterating what should be obvious: Women are fully capable of making important decisions about their own health and should be able to do so without interference from the government. As ob-gyns, it’s our job to inform and support these decisions.

We know that TRAP legislation is being considered in a number of other states. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first—or the last—attempt by politicians to confuse the conversation with inaccurate and misleading information and without regard for what women want. But it’s clear to me that women will continue to stand up for their reproductive rights. And we at ACOG will stand ready to respond with scientific facts, conviction, and common sense on behalf of the women we serve.

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A Major Victory for Women’s Health and Ob-Gyns at the AMA

As I’ve said many times, this is an amazing time for women in the US. And the news just keeps getting better: We now have a dedicated, life-long advocate for women’s health in line to lead one of the most influential medical organizations in the country.

I was thrilled this week to witness the election of Robert M. Wah, MD, as president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA sets national, cross-specialty guidelines for physician ethics and medical education standards, and it also serves as a thought leader and central voice for doctors in the US. As only the third ob-gyn to be elected as AMA president, I am confident that Dr. Wah will always keep the health and needs of women of all ages at the forefront. He is someone who understands both specialty care and primary care, physician and patient needs in surgical and outpatient settings, private and public health needs, and most importantly in my opinion, the role of women as the drivers of health care.

Dr. Wah is an ob-gyn from Northern Virginia with a string of accolades too long too list. He currently practices and teaches at the Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, MD, and the National Institutes of Health. Prior to his election, he was active in many areas of the AMA and also has served on ACOG’s Executive Board and Health Care Commission.

ACOG lobbied for and wholeheartedly supports Dr. Wah’s election. We believe he will not only serve our specialty well, but all physicians, women, and their families, too. We’re excited in anticipation of the great changes he will inspire during his tenure.

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Farewell to Our Friend and Colleague, Dr. Sterling Williams

ACOG is a great organization because we stand for women’s health, women’s reproductive rights, and the needs of our physicians. It is in supporting our physicians that we excel. We have developed some incredible leaders and departments at our national headquarters in Washington, DC, that really support these goals. ACOG’s education department is certainly one of the standouts.

I was so sad to hear news of the passing of Dr. Sterling Williams this week—ACOG’s Vice President of Education—because he devoted his life to education and helped each and every one of us ob-gyns. Just a few days before I became President, Sterling and I had lunch together. He was excited to share news of his family, the transition he was considering as he retired from ACOG, and to discuss all of the changes he was contemplating. He had invited me to participate in one of his great achievements this year, a simulation training program.

Sterling understood the many challenges in our profession as well as the importance of preparing residents for the future and of keeping ourselves up to date on advancements in practice to provide the best care for our patients. But Sterling did so much more. He was a true Renaissance man who glowed in the accomplishment of receiving his doctorate last year, who performed in a world-renowned chorus with his incredible baritone voice, who had television and movie roles with Bill Cosby and Spike Lee. And more than anything else, he was a man who wanted to see each and every ACOG Fellow succeed.

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Guest Blog: How ACOG Sections Can Increase Member Advocacy

Holly S. Puritz, MD

Holly S. Puritz, MD

As women’s health continues to come under attack at the federal and state level the importance of advocacy cannot be overstated. We need educated voices to weigh in on key issues. It is only through continued advocacy that we can protect our patients’ access to care and preserve the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship.

Ob-gyns are getting the message: More than 330 ob-gyns attended ACOG’s annual Congressional Leadership Conference (CLC) in March—our highest attendance yet. During the CLC, we have the opportunity to meet with congressional leaders to call attention to key ob-gyn issues. We also learn about the importance of women’s health advocacy on the state level, where many laws that affect how we care for our patients are passed. Often, our expert testimony can be very meaningful when bills are still in committee.

In Virginia, we were struggling to find a way to have physicians available for these committee sessions, but we believe we’ve found a good solution. Each year, the Virginia Section sponsors approximately six members to attend the CLC. This year, to encourage state advocacy, we adopted a “pay it forward” approach to this sponsorship. We now expect our sponsored members to spend one full day during the legislative session in Richmond, ready to speak to lawmakers.

The Virginia General Assembly meets every year from January to March. The key committees meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and bills often come up without warning. Our lobbyist can testify on our behalf, but the message is always better received when delivered by a physician. In 2013, we aimed to have at least one ACOG Fellow or Junior Fellow attend each Tuesday and Thursday of the legislative session.

By implementing this new system, as bills came up, there was always someone who could testify. Our lobbyist knew she would have coverage, and we knew our voices would be heard. On days when testimony was not needed, the ob-gyn would accompany our lobbyist on “rounds” of key legislators to discuss women’s health issues from our perspective.

Our CLC group wasn’t large enough to cover every Tuesday and Thursday during the session, so we also asked other ob-gyns to volunteer, offering to reimburse them for mileage and lunch. Our ob-gyn representatives enjoyed their one-on-one experience and are looking to build on the relationships they formed in the off-season so that we can continue to be strong advocates for women’s health.

We found this new process to be a very effective way to encourage state advocacy, and we hope to expand participation in 2014 by increasing volunteer outreach at our annual section meeting. I invite other ACOG sections to give this formula a try. More voices in more states speaking up for women is a goal that we should all strive to achieve.

Holly S. Puritz, MD is chair of ACOG’s Virginia Section.

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Health Care Hope for Millions after Supreme Court Ruling

The lead up to the US Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a bumpy road at best. But beneath all the rhetoric and partisanship surrounding the ACA lies a solemn and unfortunate truth: Too many Americans are uninsured, and lives are being lost because of it. An estimated 18,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 die prematurely each year because they lack health insurance. The uninsured receive less preventive care, disease diagnoses at more advanced stages, and fewer medical interventions post-diagnoses than people with insurance.

The ACA is important and necessary legislation. It helps ensure insurance reforms that guarantee availability and renewability, prohibit preexisting condition exclusions, and prohibit gender rating—insurance reforms that will work best under an individual mandate. Beginning in 2014, the ACA prohibits new insurance plans from denying women coverage on the basis of pregnancy, previous cesarean delivery, history of domestic violence, or other preexisting medical conditions. These protections are landmark improvements in women’s health. The ACA also guarantees women direct access to obstetric and gynecologic care. My own state of Nevada and 42 other states already allow direct access—now, with this new national ob-gyn direct-access standard, all women in every state will no longer face costly and burdensome delays and denials.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of the ACA is a victory for women indeed. It gives the US Congress the opportunity to act now to improve the legislation to ensure that America’s practicing physicians are able to provide quality health care for all. ACOG supports the many elements of the ACA that have enormous potential to improve women’s health, and we urge all states to act swiftly to implement these important access and coverage guarantees.