Editor’s Note: Each year, through Advocates for Arthritis, the ACR takes more than 100 members and patients to Capitol Hill so they can share their experiences with lawmakers. The ACR held Advocates for Arthritis in March; here is one participant’s story about his experience on The Hill.
Amidst the most momentous week of the year’s tumultuous healthcare reform activities, we arrived in Washington, D.C., for the annual ACR Advocates for Arthritis Capitol Hill Fly-In. This was to be my first visit to Congress. Although my alma mater, Georgetown University, was a short distance from the Capitol dome, as a student I had little interest in the political process—particularly as it related to medicine. Now, however, as a young rheumatologist, I am increasingly aware of the impact health policy has on my daily practice. I have also watched the healthcare reform debate unfold over the last year, recognizing that this is a critical time for physicians to be vocal and active. There is a great deal at stake, and we are surrounded daily by the very issues debated in Washington. Why not take our opinions directly to the decision makers?
The ACR brought together over 120 rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals, and patients from 35 states to participate in the two-day Capitol Hill Fly-In. Applying for the event was easy (instructions can be found at www.rheumatology.org under the Advocacy tab), and the ACR covered travel expenses.
On the first day, we gathered at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Va., within view of the Capitol located across the rain-swollen Potomac. The day was devoted to advocacy training and discussion of our five primary legislative priorities:
- Fixing the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula;
- Reinstating consultation service codes;
- Encouraging co-sponsoring of the Arthritis Prevention Control and Cure Act;
- Ensuring access to osteoporosis testing; and
- Increasing National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.
Guest speakers included representatives from the NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services and professional consultants. Representatives Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas) both spoke to our assembled group, offering insights into the climate of healthcare legislation and offering tips on how to communicate with senators, representatives, and their staffers.
On the second day of the fly-in, we were grouped into teams by state—I was joined by an experienced team leader and a patient advocate—and we met with legislators and their staff. My team lobbied five representatives and three senators from the states of Georgia and South Carolina. The atmosphere in the Senate and House office buildings was electric, with voting on the healthcare reform bill set to occur later in the week.