Note: The following column consists of the remarks I delivered at the Political Plenary session during the APA Practice Organization’s State Leadership Conference in March. Although all AAP members are far more sophisticated about the importance of political giving, the content below is offered to help assist you in disseminating the message to those of your colleagues who have not, as yet, gotten “on board.”
I know that some of you, perhaps many of you, may perceive that involvement in the political process is offensive or distasteful. Further, many may even think that politics has no impact on their lives. Please take a few minutes to read a short description of a typical day in the life of one psychologist who closely resembles the model stereotypic “cynical-about-political-involvement” psychologist. I’ll call him “Joe the Psychologist.”
Joe gets up at 6am and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some fervent political activist fought for minimum water quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some zealots in D.C. fought to insure both their safety and that they work as advertised. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because wide-eyed believers fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.
Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.
Joe begins his workday. He has a good private practice despite the fact that his income has flattened in recent years. He is able to practice independently without need for supervision by a psychiatrist because some passionate trailblazing psychology leaders fought for these rights in the ’70s. He can bill his patients’ insurance companies for services he provides because a bunch of ardent politically active psychologists fought to establish a law permitting this a couple of decades ago. Beginning 18 years ago he became able to bill Medicare for treatment he provides to elderly patients because of the fervent battles psychology activists and their Washington-based APA lobbyists fought in, since psychologists were excluded from the Medicare Program for its first 25 years of existence.
Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father, now retired, this evening at his farm home in the country. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some forward thinking campaigners made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to.
Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that government involvement in our lives is bad and the less government involvement in our lives, the better. The host doesn’t mention that those who rail against government have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees with the host and really believes the following which he espouses from time to time: “We don’t need big government ruining our lives! I just stay uninvolved. I never participate in this sort of hogwash. I don’t vocally or financially support any public policy issues. I don’t feel the need to get involved in those political types of things whatsoever because —— After all —— I’m a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, ———— just like I did ————.”
“The bottom line for all of us is, we must do everything we can to enhance our political giving practices. Currently, practitioners, about 40,000 contribute an average of $3 per year for this purpose. We would all agree that number is pretty pathetic.”
Some of you may know a psychologist who believes as Joe does. The truth is that by the year 2018, 50% of health care will be paid for by the government if all things were to remain the same. In 2009, $2.5T will be spent per year on health care. Next year, 18% of GDP will be spent on health care. This is to say that it is no wonder why health care reform has been such an incredibly difficult industry to change. There is a lot of money floating around in the system and a lot of interests that are unwilling to modify their practices, their share of this almost $3T industry, simply because their stake in it is so very lucrative.
While it is true that Psychology has done better in representing our own interests and those of our patients over the past decade, we made some terrible mistakes in the distant past, one of which took us 25 long years to rectify. I am referring to the time we opted out of the Medicare Program in the mid-60s. How brilliant was that?????
Let me throw a couple of other facts out for you to consider if there is anyone that doesn’t think money is a powerful determinant in the US election process, an area of particular weakness in psychology’s advocacy program. All of us are aware that Barack Obama raised a ton of money last year in his presidential run. The myth is that he did so with an equal number of small contributions as large ones. In reality, Obama raised 80% more from large donors than from small ones, outstripping all rivals and predecessors (small donor being defined as a contribution of less than $200). The amount of money that poured into all federal elections in 2008 was staggering, more than $6.3B. The total directly raised in Congressional races alone in 2008 was $1.3B.
That being said, let me preface my next remarks by saying that I do not intend them to be construed in any way as an endorsement of the current campaign finance system. I do want to convey, however, my strong belief that if we want to achieve even a modicum of success with our legislative agenda here in Washington, we must recognize that the current system of campaign finance IS the coin of the realm. And, no matter how much we may disapprove of it, it is the system that dominates elections and I believe it will continue to do so for a long time. I believe that for one simple reason. Those people that would have to change the law, members of the US Congress, are the same people that benefit enormously by NOT changing the law in any appreciable way. Incumbents win elections at the federal level with an over 90% success rate. They overwhelmingly can raise far more money than their challenger opponents. Let me ask you, would you change a system that was so heavily weighted in your favor????
The bottom line for all of us is, we must do everything we can to enhance our political giving practices. Currently, practitioners, about 40,000, contribute an average of $3 per year for this purpose. We would all agree that number is pretty pathetic. If we raised the average contribution to only $25 per year, psychology would have the second largest PAC in the health care industry, excluding the pharmaceutical companies. You can do your share by both contributing to AAP and informing your colleagues about the value of doing so. Visit the AAP website today and make a contribution and urge your friends to do so too: www.aapnet.org.