When I left for maternity leave in February, I thought (perhaps naively) that I would have time to read more, exercise, clean out our garage, write thank you notes and just hit pause on the world for a brief moment. Alas, life is a funny thing, and as the world hit pause due to the pandemic, my current reality is a whirlwind of a toddler, a newborn baby, a husband working from home and, occasionally, some serene walks. I am a planner by nature and have several advocacy goals that I hope to accomplish while serving as the chair of the Government Affairs Committee (GAC). My predecessor, Angus Worthing, MD, FACR, FACP, did mention that sometimes issues will unexpectedly arise that we would have to deal with, though I don’t think he could have predicted something of this magnitude. He did set the stage for me to be open to change and be flexible. Thank goodness.
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We have now (just!) finished our first ever virtual advocacy day and, despite it being our first foray into virtual Hill meetings, this event was a great success. We still have one eye set on our original priorities for the year, such as legislation targeting utilization management (step therapy for Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans, prior authorization for Medicare Advantage plans), medical research dollars and workforce deficits. However, we needed to adjust our asks to match our members’ needs in the tumultuous time of the pandemic. With the help of the GAC and our ACR advocacy staff team (Adam Cooper, Lennie Shewmaker, Amanda Grimm Wiegrefe, Dan Redinger and Joseph Cantrell), we pivoted the policy that we took to the Hill as the policies and member feedback changed rapidly.
This May, our outreach to Congress addressed provider solvency issues to maintain access to care for our patients. We discussed the need for additional funding through the CARES Act programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program, and the need for provider-specific grants to help support practices. We expressed our appreciation of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) support of providers with reimbursement of telehealth visits matching the rate for face-to-face visits (F2F), because this was all many of us could do. We asked Congress to guide CMS in supporting providers with a blanket adjustment for already submitted audio-only visits and to support legislation (H.R. 6644) that would have ERISA plans meet payment parity as well. Finally, we asked Congress to support the CMS 2020 Physician Fee Schedule, which recognized cognitive specialties and will result in an average increase in reimbursement of 15% for rheumatology.