"In New York, it's about finance;
In Boston, it's about power;
In Washington (DC), it's about access."
The invitation came in a regular envelope. An invitation to go to Washington DC. Who asked me? What was this for? Was it real?
I studied the invitation: a "personal" invite from Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), dinner the first night (dutch treat), then meetings started the next day at 08:30 am in the Rayburn Building, presentations, other Senators and Congressman to be invited (names to be decided). New plans. Need input, discussion, dinner afterward.
I showed the invitation to my wife: "Do you think this is the real thing? Why would they ask me?"
"Looks real. Call them," she said. "Find out who's going. Maybe there's someone you know."(My wife, unphased, used to testify on the Hill when I was a young staff doctor at the National Naval Hospital in Bethesda, MD many years ago).
I waited a few days, then called. "Well, fifty-five doctors have already RSVP'd so far," said the exasperated voice on the end of the line." Ugh, I thought. "We'll be sending out a revised agenda with a list of the attendees when the date gets closer."
Would it be worth it? Fifty-five doctors? Were doctors being asked to come to Washington at their own expense just so it would look like we were "at the table" when, in fact, we were "on the menu?" Given health care's recent history and how things got to where we are now, it was very hard to suppress my cynicism. Who funds Representative Sessions, I wondered? I checked. Got it. Then I really pondered: why me?
My wife looked at me like I was an idiot. "You have to go," she said. "You can't go through all of these hours of investigation, research, fire, and brimstone, and not go to Washington. Make some appointments. Maybe you could stay with our old friends Jack and Jill (not their real names) while you're there."
"But the time from work... it's so expensive..."
"You decide," she said. "But if it was me, I'd make it worth every minute. Look, Washington is really kind of, well, government. Think DMV. Big hallways. Linoleum floors. Fluorescent lighting. All puffed up, but not that glamorous when you think about it, it's no big deal." My wife sure knows how to sell things...
That night, I stared at the computer screen on my desk. "How much does it cost to fly to Washington?" I searched Orbitz. I'd have to cancel a clinic day, maybe two. Maybe I could swing this if I only missed an extra half a day of my clinic. Folks at work won't like this. Oh heck, she's right. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't go.
After weighing things, I booked the flight, then rearranged and blocked my clinic schedule the next day, though I still wasn't sure. Will it be worth it?
A few weeks later a more finalized agenda came with the names of who would be attending. I googled everyone (this seemed to take forever). I made a list. 18 states. Most were practicing doctors. Most of those orthopedic physicians, (Huh?) a few AMA representatives (young and semi-retired), a few older retired doctors, a few lawyers, an economist, a doctor who ran an ICD-10 coding company, a person who owned a medical collection company, some physician advocacy group representatives, a lobbyist.
"Mouth of the lion," I thought. "How am I going to get a word in edgewise?" Fifty-five people had grown to sixty. "It'll be a waste of time," I thought. The next day I finished my overbooked clinic, then returned home to tell my wife what I had decided. I told her I probably won't go to Washington after all.
"You have to go," she reinforced.
"It's all about access."