As the frustration with changes in healthcare grows, and after speaking with the vociferous advocates who are part of the ACR, you have decided that you need to become involved in advocacy for your patients, your practice and your profession. Welcome to the fold.
How to Help from Home
Many people indicate they aren’t more active in advocacy because of their physical distance from Washington, D.C. Considering time and financial constraints, as well as practice commitments, too many of us cannot afford to make a trip to our nation’s capital. Don’t let this prevent you from taking an active role in advocacy. Here are some ways that you can get involved right at home.
- Join the ACR Advocacy online community: This is the best way to stay informed about what is happening in Washington that affects rheumatology. The skilled leadership and staff devoted to government affairs provide regular updates on policies and bills that merit our attention and action. Being informed is the first big step in being an effective advocate.
- Invest in RheumPAC: This is the best way for us to get our foot in the door of legislators who are developing policies that affect our patients and practices. Other stakeholders—the insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers and pharmaceutical companies—have many staff members on Capitol Hill, but currently, less than 5% of rheumatologists have participated in the best way to take them on in D.C. By giving, you help make your voice (and your colleagues’ voices) heard.
- Visit the advocacy section on the ACR website: The Legislative Action Center allows you to send letters to your representatives and senators regarding the issues before them. Every letter counts, literally: They keep track of every pro or con letter they get from a constituent, and this can affect how they vote. We also can weigh in when the CMS is planning a proposal that is detrimental to our patients and practices. We have already been successful in preventing bad policies from being instituted, but we can always use more voices in addressing future proposals.
- Support your own representative or senator: Some of us are fortunate enough to have stellar people representing us in Washington. Contributing to their campaign will often lead to access when they are in their district, invitations to events, even development of relationships that allow you to provide expert opinions to them on issues they will be called to vote on.
- Make a visit to your legislator when they are home: When the House is not in session, most representatives will have office hours in their home districts. Simply call their office, find out when they will be there, and make an appointment to visit. You can get briefs from ACR advocacy staff on pressing issues that you can give to your representative. Senators also have satellite offices that are often nearby; make an appointment to visit with their local legislative aides, who will pass on your information to the right people in the senator’s D.C. office.
- Be willing to attend a local fundraiser as a representative of the ACR: Representatives and senators who have supported pro-rheumatology issues or are on committees that are important to our causes are often on the list of people whose campaigns are supported by RheumPAC. Quite often, local constituents can attend fundraisers as an ACR representative to present a check to their campaign, and have a chance for a one-on-one meeting with that senator or representative. This gives you an opportunity to provide them information on our issues. Direct contact is an excellent way to get our point across.
- Don’t forget your state advocacy activities: Many of us live in states with state rheumatology societies that are becoming very active with the state legislatures. Some issues are better handled by state and local governments, and this is important as well.
- Connect with your elected officials and other rheumatology advocates on social media, such as Twitter: It’s a great way to publicly thank rheumatology champions on Capitol Hill for their work. Follow the ACR at @ACRheum and check out ACR GAC Chair @AngusWorthing’s#ThingADay for easy ways to get involved.
We all can step up and become more active advocates. Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill reportedly said, “All politics is local.” Certainly, advocacy begins at home.
Disclaimer: Contributions to RheumPAC are used for political purposes and are not tax deductible. Contributions to RheumPAC must be voluntary and made with personal funds. Federal law prohibits contributions to RheumPAC from corporations, but ask us about the RheumPAC Advocacy Fund, which does support advocacy with soft dollars. Contributions to RheumPAC can be made only by U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens.
Chris Morris, MD, is a rheumatologist at Arthritis Associates in Kingsport, Tenn.