On Sept. 12–13, nearly 100 rheumatologists, health professionals and patients participated in the Advocates for Arthritis event on Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of those living with and treating rheumatic diseases.
Key Requests & Congressional Support
Attendees visited 116 members of Congress and their staff members to:
- Advocate for changes to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS’s) Part B drug payment demonstration project;
- Advocate for increased funding for biomedical research;
- Request official recognition of September as Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month; and
- Request elimination of the annual Medicare services cap on physical therapy.
“In general, there was support for all the things we brought to them,” says Harry Gewanter, MD, FAAP, FACR, and ACR RheumPAC Committee chair. “Everybody we talked to was in favor of eliminating Medicare physical therapy caps and ensuring some stability for biomedical research funding as well.”
Nearly all legislators he heard from or talked with also agreed that changes are necessary to the Part B demonstration project, Dr. Gewanter continues, although their individual motivations and ideas varied.
The Power of a Patient Advocate
For the second year in a row, Chap Sampson, MD, a rheumatologist in Arkansas, participated as a physician advocate. He first got involved after responding to an email from the American College of Rheumatology (ACR).
With a patient advocate, Dr. Sampson visited with Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), and with Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR).
“I think it was particularly helpful to have a patient advocate go with me to the meetings with our representatives,” he says. “I imagine it would be easy to become jaded as a Congressional member after getting a multitude of requests every day for new legislation. However, it’s much more difficult to ignore a request from a patient who sits down with you, face to face to explain why advancing arthritis care and research is so extremely important.”
Joint Effort Needed
In addition to rheumatology advocates, Dr. Gewanter says, several other specialties were also advocating on the Hill during the visit, including cardiology and dermatology. Participants also heard presentations from neurologists and oncologists.
“It was really enlightening to hear how other specialties are doing things and addressing some of the same issues we are,” he says. “I think it’s going to take multiple specialties working together to get things done.”
It also will take the efforts of younger rheumatologists, he says, which is why he was inspired by an Advocacy 101 session aimed at fellows and academic program directors to help them learn more about the role government policy plays in their lives. He hopes to see Advocacy 101 expand in the future.