At a time when public policies about health care and health insurance are being probed, picked apart and politicized, the highest-ranking representative of our nation’s pediatricians has no problem keeping her priorities straight.
Dr. Karen Remley, MBA, MPH, FAAP, CEO and executive vice-president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says it comes down to reminding people, “What do we care about? Our children. Our children’s health. My role, as a spokesperson, as a voice for children and families, is to stay true to that message.”
Remley will be the keynote speaker on Friday, April 7, when Raising Special Kids presents the first annual “Partners In Care Healthcare Symposium,” a conference for professionals and parents on the challenges of transitioning adolescents with special healthcare needs from pediatric to adult care.
Remley’s topic is “Child Health Policy and the New Administration: Tracking the First 100 Days.”
So what’s her take on the new administration?
“I’m very hopeful,” she said during a phone interview about 30 days into Donald Trump’s presidency. “Everybody had a mother, everybody was a child at one time. Issues around children have traditionally been bipartisan. We need to continue to make sure the child and family are the center of the conversation, not partisan politics.”
Of particular concern to those in the special-needs community are proposals that would cap Medicaid funding, shifting a larger financial burden to the states. Medicaid-funded programs that serve Arizona children include the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS), Children’s Rehabilitative Services (CRS), Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT), Comprehensive Medical and Dental Program (CMDP), Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and more.
Families that depend on the Affordable Care Act for health insurance also face anxiety as specifics about what will replace it have yet to emerge.
Remley had recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where she spent much of a day in meetings with senators from both sides of the aisle — including Senator Charles E. “Chuck” Schumer, D-New York, and Senator Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.
“We talked about what is important for children in the Affordable Care Act,” Remley says. “There was a lot of good, interested conversation.” With the ACA, she says, “many things were done really well, but there are some things that need to be modified. You need to have the willingness to be able to say, ‘Change is good, but first we need to make sure we really understand what’s working.’ ”
The role of the AAP
The AAP is a professional organization of 66,000 pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists around the country.
The organization “sets policies that guide best-practice standards of care — everything from how to use oxygen with extremely young children to the impact of food insecurity on children,” Remley says. “Policies are based on careful study — using science, gathering evidence — on how to best help patients.”
The AAP also works to communicate evidence-based information to families. That’s tough to do at a time when so much misinformation is available online.
“We need to be first, we need to be right, we need to be credible, and we need to continue to share that message in a very straightforward way,” she says.
The organization has been a strong voice for vaccinations, for children living in poverty and, recently, for transgender youth. As we spoke, Remley said the AAP was preparing to announce a policy statement on the children of immigrants.
The AAP-hosted website healthychildren.org offers information about childhood development, healthy living, safety, specific medical conditionals, injuries, preventable diseases and more.
“Anything we do for our doctors, we do a parents version there,” Remley said. “A huge number of people come to the website. A lot of people sign up [for email alerts and newsletters] because they want to be able to get information as soon as it becomes available.”
The journey to CEO
Remley began her medical career in a small pediatric practice. She worked for 15 years as an attending physician in the emergency department at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia before moving into leadership roles in hospitals and nonprofits. She served as chief medical officer of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Virginia and commissioner of health for the Commonwealth of Virginia before assuming her current position.
As the first female CEO of the AAP, Remley is a vocal advocate for women physicians. Still, she longs for a day when being a woman doing a high-profile job isn’t the source of headlines.
“When I took this job, the AAP news interviewed me and asked, ‘What does it feel like?’ [to be the organization’s first female CEO]. I told them it makes me feel really sad that it’s taken this long, that you’re still asking me that question now.” She would like to see more women involved in healthcare policy discussions. “Even in 2017, I am too often the sole female voice at the table,” she tweeted recently @DrRemleyAAP.
Remley is married to a physician — cardiac electrophysiologist John Onufer — and has two grown daughters. Emily is in her second year of a general surgery residency. Kathleen is an urban planner. (“I like to say she fixes sick cities instead of sick people,” Remley says.)
She has been a member of the AAP for 36 years. “It didn’t matter which job I was in,” she says. “When I would hear, ‘the AAP recommends,’ even while brushing my teeth and listening to NPR, I would be so proud of that and the amount of work and passion that brings about those policies.”
Partners in Care Healthcare Symposium
The Partners in Care Healthcare Symposium will provide continuing education and community resources for physicians, allied healthcare professionals and families. The event is hosted by Raising Special Kids, a local nonprofit that works to improve the lives of children with a full range of disabilities, from birth to age 26, by providing support, training, information and individual assistance so families can become effective advocates for their children.
- When: Friday, April 7. Breakfast and check-in begins at 7 a.m.; sessions continue 8:20 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
- Where: The Camby Hotel, 2401 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
- Cost: $65 for family members of children with special needs; $130-$180 for healthcare professionals. Registration includes all three morning sessions and one of three afternoon sessions; continental breakfast, plated luncheon and refreshment breaks; materials, credentials and complimentary valet parking. Physicians can opt to participate for CME credits.
- Registration: 602-242-4366 or partnersincare2017.com/register