Policymakers working in U.S. state capitols are tasked with advancing legislation that supports their constituents and solves the challenges they face. One way state legislators learn about these challenges is through advocacy efforts, such as when rheumatologists contact their representatives to raise awareness about such issues as drug pricing or prior authorization.
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Rep. Kim Schofield (D-Ga.) is one such policymaker, whose journey into politics began 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with lupus. Shortly after her diagnosis, she started a lupus support group and gradually shifted her energy toward advocacy efforts at the capitol, which led her to run for office in 2017. Rep. Schofield spoke with The Rheumatologist about advocacy, how it helps and what types of legislation can help rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals and their patients.
Q: Generally speaking, what is advocacy?
Advocacy is about relationship building, reaching the people that want to be your ally. I like to say, as a state representative, I “re-present” your issue. When people bring me an issue they’re passionate about, I re-present that issue to a larger body of policymakers to get them on board so we can then make that issue our own and produce change.
Q: What efforts do you see as important for rheumatology patients and providers?
One of the things I’ve been actively working on is to make sure we are recruiting and retaining rheumatologists [who] can serve in rural and underserved communities. That helps in a number of ways, but in particular, with the baby boomers getting older, we’re going to need more rheumatologists. Additionally, we have been working with the Georgia Council on Lupus Education and Awareness to educate all school nurses across the state to recognize the signs and symptoms of lupus and be able to refer students to pediatric rheumatologists. We also developed pediatric-to-adulthood guidance to help young adults with lupus transition to college or into the workforce.
Q: When you’re talking about improving access in rural communities and getting providers to those places, how does legislation do that?
We have to get creative, and policymakers can help drive the funding and the resources to put new innovations in place. For example, telemedicine opens up doors for people that are in underserved communities to have access to physicians. So expanding broadband internet in the rural community allows these communities to engage by making healthcare attainable and affordable.