President of Texas Medical Association addresses rift with Schaefer

Published on Thursday, 27 February 2014 23:19 - Written by Adam Russell arussell@tylerpaper.com

Political snipes between incumbent state Rep. Matt Schaefer, the Texas Medical Association and local doctors continues as Election Day nears.

The president of the Texas Medical Association, which represents about 47,000 Texas physicians, addressed the rift between the association and the incumbent and members of the Tyler medical community before a general meeting of the Smith County Medical Society Thursday.

Schaefer, 37, is seeking reelection after his freshman legislative session. He faces challenger Skip Ogle, 47, a long-time area lobbyist and small business owner.

Ogle’s campaign has tapped discontent among some business and community leaders who believe Schaefer isolated himself in Austin and offers little ear or voice to Tyler/Smith County concerns.

The No. 1 employer in Smith County is the medical sector. There are three major hospitals, which employ more than 8,000 people combined and dozens of specialists and private practitioners.

The Texas Medical Association endorsed Ogle earlier this year and was critical of Schaefer within the released statement. Schaefer fired back with mailers containing statements the medical association denies and quotes from Tyler doctors who support his reelection bid.

In a letter to “Smith County Physicians,” Schaefer pled his case to be their representative and accused the medical association of opposing anti-abortion legislation and supporting “Obamacare,” the Affordable Healthcare Act. The letter also included supportive statements for Schaefer from local physicians.

“Matt Schaefer opposed Obamacare and supported pro-life when the TMA did not,” a quote from family practitioner Dan Baber reads. “I support Matt because he listens directly to us, the physicians of Tyler, and shares our East Texas values. As both a taxpayer and a physician, I trust Rep. Matt Schaefer.”

Stephen Brotherton, the medical association president, and an orthopedic surgeon in Fort Worth, said endorsements are based on local input.

The association “is not going to weigh in on a local race without strong input from local doctors,” he said. “We’re not going to oppose an incumbent often either, so that’s a pretty strong endorsement for Ogle.”

Brotherton called the characterization of the medical association as “pro-abortion” or “pro-Obamacare” laughable.

“That is a colossal joke,” Brotherton said. “The TMA took a very strong stance against ‘Obamacare.’ That’s just poor research or on purpose. And to say we opposed pro-life legislation is laughable and disingenuous at best.”

Brotherton said the medical association did express concern about how some of the provisions within the anti-abortion legislation invaded or infringed the doctor-patient relationship.

He said the association has members who advocate on both sides of the issue, and its primary concern in those discussions is patient safety and doctor-patient relationships. But it never opposed or supported the bill, he said.

The Texas Medical Association has weighed in on about 75 percent of ongoing district primary races, he said. But the association stays out of local races when asked by local physicians, he added.

Schaefer was attending a “get-out-the-vote” event and did not return comment by press time.

Darrell Alley, a Tyler trauma surgeon and president of the Smith County Medical Society, said the problem with Schaefer among local doctors has been non-communication. Alley said Schaefer has not made himself available and broken appointments with individual physicians who wanted to speak with him.

“I understand there is a lot of information that goes through his office and making sense of it has to be difficult, but it would help if we could educate him from our point of view and why something is beneficial for the health of Texans,” he said. “I don’t envy his position of making the decision. but he should at least talk to his constituents and ask questions so you can make the best, educated decision possible.”