These are truly extraordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the rheumatology community, both providers and patients, in many ways, and our advocacy efforts are now more important than ever to ensure policymakers hear us and help address the issues facing our community. As with so many things during this pandemic, we are reimagining advocacy and finding new ways to be effective in Washington, D.C.
Our dedicated professional staff and volunteers in D.C. have continued to advocate for us in a virtual environment without missing a beat. In addition, we needed to find a way for individual ACR/ARP members to bring their concerns and recommendations directly to federal lawmakers during the pandemic—without traveling to Capitol Hill. Each year for many years, the ACR has held two major fly-in events in D.C. to meet directly with decision makers on challenges that face our specialty. Many of you have joined us in our nation’s capital for these important visits through the years, and you know the value of direct contact from you, a constituent, sharing your experiences and recommendations with lawmakers. How could this be accomplished in this period when travel is severely limited or banned?
As it became clear that in-person visits to D.C. for our usual May Advocacy Leadership Conference would be impossible, the ACR organized its first-ever Virtual Hill Day, involving leaders on our board of directors, as well as committee chairs and volunteer members of the Government Affairs Committee (GAC), Committee on Rheumatologic Care (CORC), RheumPAC, the Insurance Subcommittee and the Affiliate Society Council. Live training webinars were held in place of the typical in-person training in preparation for the visits, and telephone meetings took the place of in-person visits to congressional offices on the Hill.
I am grateful to the nearly 80 ACR volunteer leaders who held 139 teleconference meetings with representatives, senators and staff in Hill offices on May 22 to discuss the difficulties we currently face in our field and to share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to thank the Government Affairs Committee for planning these impactful virtual visits, GAC Chair Blair Solow, MD, and our professional advocacy staff, who made all of this happen seamlessly. I also want to thank the many ACR/ARP members and patients who added their voices from home through our Legislative Action Center, the ACR’s online platform providing advocates the ability to directly email their lawmakers with policy messages. Each one of these touch points with legislators makes a difference and helps move our concerns to the forefront.