President's Message: Thinking big to save lives

January 16, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Physician Leadership 

On January 1, 2016, a California Medical Association (CMA) co-sponsored law went into effect that will help protect the health of California’s children and communities by eliminating the personal belief exemption from school immunization requirements.

As a physician who has a vested interest in the advancement of California’s public health efforts, I can’t think of a better way to start 2016.

With the new year underway, I’m thrilled to stand with you all, as your CMA president, during what will surely be an exciting time for the future of health care in our nation. We have big things planned for 2016—an election year—and I’m eager to continue the work we’ve all been doing to tackle the most important issues in our profession.

One of our top priorities this year will be passing a tobacco tax in California that will increase the price of cigarettes by $2 per pack. Smoking results in tens of thousands of deaths each year and billions in health care costs annually, and it’s time that we do something about it. Raising the tobacco tax from its current $0.87 (among the lowest rates in the nation) to $2.87 would not only reduce the number of teens who become addicted to smoking each year, but would also generate much-needed revenue for health care programs in California.

The Save Lives California coalition, which CMA is a member of, has already filed an initiative with the California Attorney General’s office to place the tax on the November ballot. The California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016 will apply the $2-per-pack tax increase to other tobacco-derived nicotine products as well, including e-cigarettes.

In 2015, CMA joined Save Lives California coalition partners including the California Dental Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association in California, the American Heart Association and dozens of other groups and dedicated legislators in advocating for stricter tobacco laws. Although some of those legislative proposals are still being discussed in a governor-ordered special session at this time, we’re moving forward with a ballot measure to tax tobacco products because it will help to save lives and reduce teen smoking.

In December of last year, the tobacco tax initiative was given what is called “title and summary” by the Attorney General’s office. That means that we can start collecting the nearly 1 million signatures needed to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot. I hope that you will join me in talking to your colleagues, friends and family about the importance of this measure. To find more about how you can help collect signatures, contact CMA at publicaffairs@cmadocs.org.

A tobacco tax isn’t the only thing of note as it relates to 2016 elections. Our colleague and fellow CMA member, Fresno-area emergency room physician Joaquin Arambula, M.D., is running in a special April election for California’s recently vacated 31st Assembly District seat. With an ever-changing landscape and new reforms around the corner, it’s more important than ever to have a physician voice in the state Assembly. Dr. Arambula knows how laws will impact real patients and real practicing physicians, and could be a true advocate for the future of medicine. If you haven’t had a chance to learn about Dr. Arambula, you can find out more by visiting www.joaquinarambula.com/about.

There are also a number of health care-related ballot measures in addition to the tobacco tax that will be put to the voters in November. Many of those measures are currently circulating to qualify for the ballot, but it is likely that physicians across the state will be weighing in on some of these important measures.

Your CMA centers on Government Relations, Health Policy, Legal Affairs, Membership, Economic Services and Public Affairs continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the physician-patient relationship is upheld and that the future of health care is strong.

We also have some exciting events planned in the coming months, including our annual Legislative Advocacy Day in Sacramento on April 13, and the Western Health Care Leadership Academy, May 13-15. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the incredible lineup of speakers that are presenting in San Francisco, please take a moment and visit the website; it’s not something you’ll want to miss.

During my time at CMA, I’ve seen what we can all accomplish when everyone chips in. I saw it when we crushed the trial lawyers’ attack on MICRA in 2014; I saw it when we informed the public of the truths about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations before the aforementioned immunization law was passed by Gov. Brown last year; and I see it when our fellow physicians meet with elected representatives in Sacramento on an annual basis to educate them on the complexities of our always-changing health care system and how it impacts our patients – their constituents.

Thank you for all of your hard work and unrelenting dedication to the practice of medicine. This will surely be a year to remember.

Steven E. Larson, M.D., MPH
CMA President


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