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Thank You for the Privilege of Representing You
Thomas M. Anderson, MD
ISMS President
Thomas M. Anderson, MD

As my term as your ISMS president winds down, I'd like to talk about this incredible past year.

While traveling to many areas around Illinois, I met with local county medical societies, medical groups and hospital staffs. As ISMS' spokesperson, I represented you and your patients to the media, legislators, specialty conferences and the general public. 

I visited several Illinois medical schools, discussing what's on the horizon of medicine and the challenges they will face as future doctors. I can tell you this – the students I met are bright and full of enthusiasm. Rest assured, this next crop of physicians is a force to be reckoned with.

Of course I also met many practicing physicians, and Illinois should be proud of the many fine doctors serving the state's residents. From my various dialogues with them, a common theme emerged: Uncertainty in our health care system has, unfortunately, become part of the medical profession. Our doctors earnestly yearn for stability and predictability in the overarching landscape of medicine.

Speaking of uncertainty, after years of talk about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), last week saw the defeat of legislation designed to accomplish these goals. While it appears that the ACA will remain the law of the land, the topic is now resurfacing in Washington with some speculation of regulatory or enforcement changes. But it's anyone's guess what we might see in the future.

Back here in Illinois, shortly after my term began, Illinois entered its second year without a budget. But not everything stands still just because Illinois doesn't have a budget. Just four days after I was sworn in as your new president, I found myself speaking at a news conference in Springfield in support of legislation to protect patients from narrowing networks and other unacceptable insurance practices. Before long, l was interviewed on WBBM Radio's At Issue with Craig Dellimore and network adequacy was one of the topics we discussed.

ISMS had already been hearing from many of our members who were concerned about health insurer network changes that were negatively affecting the physician-patient relationship. Witnessing the confusion and disruption our patients experience is immensely frustrating for doctors.

Just last February I spoke again at a press conference in Springfield on this same topic, introducing the 2017 version of the ISMS-backed legislation called the Network Adequacy and Transparency Act (NAT Act). Earlier this month, the bill passed out of the House Insurance Health & Life Committee and is now poised for a vote by the full House.

Despite our early success, the NAT Act still faces significant opposition from the insurance industry. We will press on, and thankfully can count more than 50 House members from both parties as supporters. 

In recent years, it’s been a rite of passage for ISMS presidents to become experts on medical cannabis due to the large number of media requests on this topic. It wasn't long before I found myself contributing to Missouri's The Joplin Globe. Our neighbor to the south was considering its own medical cannabis initiative, and the Globe was reaching out to see how things were working in other states. This was the first of several interviews on this topic.

ISMS was very involved in important changes to the law for medical cannabis. As a result of our advocacy, a requirement was removed that physicians certify that, in their professional opinion, the patient would be likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the medical use of cannabis. This is good news for doctors. We heard from many of you regarding the unease of having to "recommend" medical cannabis, and ISMS worked hard to change the legal requirement to simply certifying that a patient has a qualifying condition. This change was designed primarily to ease the burden on physicians. Legislation was recently introduced in Springfield to legalize recreational use of marijuana, but ISMS remains opposed to this initiative.

Illinois' opioid epidemic was also on the front burner during my presidency. I met with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and spoke to the media on this topic. In 2015, ISMS supported legislation to help alleviate the opioid and heroin epidemics. Now law, its impact is starting to take root. Prescribing levels are on the decline in Illinois. However, as physicians, we must continue to be mindful of our role in prescribing these medications safely. But safe prescribing is just one component of the solution – payers must cover treatment for addiction and patients need to get rid of their unused medications so that they are not diverted.

Last fall, in support of the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, ISMS and ISMIE Mutual joined together to distribute a printed kit to help physicians and their staff educate patients about safe disposal of unused and expired prescription medications. This campaign centered on the fact that unused prescriptions help fuel the opioid crisis. We are promoting another disposal event slated for April 29.

These are just some of the highlights of the work that ISMS accomplished over this past year. It was an honor to represent you while making our concerns and our patients' needs known. I would also like to express how grateful I am for the support of ISMS staff during my term as president.

Thank you for the opportunity.

During the remainder of my term, I can be reached at DrAnderson@isms.org.

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