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Roundtable Shows How to Square Off for Family Medicine

If you’re reading this, a blog dedicated to the Academy’s lobbying efforts and the surrounding political landscape, you might be preoccupied with Election Day. In what’s already been a dramatic, often chaotic year, you too may find yourself wondering how the next five weeks could feel like so much time and so little — give or take however long past Nov. 3 we might have to wait before knowing the true, binding outcome(

So it was something like a comfort to see the roundtable portion of the AAFP’s annual State Legislative Conference — the first of the adapted-for-the-pandemic event’s four online-only sessions — unfold this past week pretty much as it would have in a live setting.

Meaning: tales from the front lines of the fight for family medicine, with emphasis on some striking wins alongside candid dissections of pushes that fell short.

About 70 members dialed into the roundtable, an attendance figure not far removed from what we’re used to seeing in a fly-in year. They got to witness the Academy recognize 2020’s Leadership in State Government Advocacy award winners: the California, New York State and Virginia chapters. And they heard from the Idaho AFP on Medicaid, the Florida AFP on scope of practice, the Colorado AFP on COVID-19 policy and the Iowa AFP on telehealth — topics in which members had signaled strong advance interest.

The Academy’s Commission on Federal and State Policy reviews materials submitted by chapters vying for the awards, which are meant to cite outstanding contributions to further family medicine through state-level legislative accomplishments or policy initiatives.

Virginia’s chapter earned the nod with a timely victory: helping to get significant vaccine legislation across the finish line. H.B. 1090 replaces the commonwealth’s outdated list of vaccines mandated for attendance at public and private schools with a more open-ended requirement that the Virginia Department of Health maintain “continuous conformity” with CDC immunization standards.

“Little did we know how important this legislation would be,” said Emmeline Gasink, M.D., speaking for the chapter during the roundtable. “I said, ‘Why not? Let’s see how this goes.'”

It went uneasily, given well-organized opposition from anti-vaccination groups. Those groups often — and incorrectly — cite federal overreach as a reason to resist immunization mandates, and they did in this case as well. So the chapter deployed a solid counter-strategy: foregrounding the measure as a state-led initiative focused on the health of Virginians.

“We worked diligently with every (general assembly) member on this common-sense piece of legislation,” Gasink said. “Lobbying efforts included numerous speakouts and meet-and-greets and countless phone calls to educate lawmakers and ensure that we avoided any perception of being held captive to federal authority.”

Political fights about immunization aren’t going away, especially with a potential COVID-19 vaccine in development, and that’s still true in Virginia. But — thanks in large part to the Virginia AFP — H.B. 1090 goes into effect next July 1 and includes state funding to ensure that those who can’t afford needed vaccines still