“By tomorrow night, there will be so many more people on Capitol Hill who know—and are sensitive to—rheumatology and the issues that impact you and your patients. There is no substitute for what you are doing,” says Martha M. Kendrick, a partner at Patton Boggs, LLP, the ACR’s lobbying firm. This is what she told the physician, health professional, and patient participants of the ACR’s 2008 “Advocates for Arthritis” advocacy event—termed a fly-in—before they took their personal stories to the lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
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Over 150 advocates participated in 225 meetings during the February Washington, D.C., fly-in. However, numbers cannot fully demonstrate the power of constituents speaking with their lawmakers. It is an effort that affects laws and decision-making in ways that extend past the traditional benchmarks of success.
“An association can successfully lobby lawmakers to a certain extent. It is when constituents call, write, and show up that lawmakers really take notice,” says Kristin Wormley, the ACR government affairs director. “The February ‘Advocates for Arthritis’ fly-in was one of those times when lawmakers took notice of the issues affecting the rheumatology community.”
The fly-in began with a day of preparation where advocates were trained by Patton Boggs. In addition to the training, participants were briefed on both the Senate and House perspectives of the issues affecting rheumatology by Billy Wynne, counsel on the Senate Finance Committee Health and Welfare Team, and Nick Shipley, legislative director to Rep. Jay Inslee (R-Wash.).
Stephen Katz, MD, PhD, director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and William Rogers, MD, medical officer of the Office of the Director of the Physicians Regulatory Issues Team at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), gave participants an overview of the current issues coming out of their institutions.
To give participants an overview of the legislative issues affecting the entire medical community, Todd Askew, director of congressional affairs at the American Medical Association, reviewed the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, and other important topics with participants.
The advocacy training ended with Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) offering her advice for advocates as they head to the Hill. Rep. Berkley immediately won the crowd over by announcing that, at the age of 47, she married a physician. She told a story of her husband asking her to test his new bone density scanner on one of their first dates. “After five minutes, a technician came in the room and told me I have osteoporosis,” says Rep. Berkley. “I realized shortly after that, he had done that deliberately.” Her husband—Dr. Larry, as she calls him—had suspected that Rep. Berkley had osteoporosis, and used his new bone density scan to “accidentally” stumble on a diagnosis. By the end of her address, it was obvious that Rep. Berkley not only understands the issues affecting rheumatology, but that she is also directly touched both as a patient and a physician’s wife.