After a hiatus from in-person gatherings during the height of the pandemic, ACR and ARP members once again gathered in Washington, D.C., for the ACR’s annual Advocacy 101 program, held as part of the ACR’s Advocacy Leadership Conference May 10–12. This program for rheumatology fellows and interprofessional team members gives members the opportunity to better understand how government policies affect the practice of rheumatology and how they can get involved in advocating for the specialty and patients, while giving them the chance to put what they’ve learned into practice immediately.
Event organizer Dan Redinger, ACR Director of Political Affairs & Engagement, describes the meeting as a mix of high-level education on policy issues in rheumatology, easy-to-use advocacy tools and a venue to put both into real-world practice. Each year, he says, attendees are surprised by the large role government plays in shaping healthcare rules and practices, such as utilization management approaches like prior authorization and step therapy, allocation of residency slots to rheumatology and healthcare provider reimbursement. Thus, the program emphasizes how important it is for rheumatology providers to advocate for themselves and their patients, he says.
“In Congress and statehouses across the country, rules affecting the treatment of care are being discussed, and it’s critical that we have a seat at the table in those discussions,” he says.
The half-day Advocacy 101 program for rheumatology fellows and ARP members was led by Amanda Alexander, MD, assistant professor of rheumatology, University of Alabama Birmingham. She opened with introductory remarks before being joined by other ACR member volunteers and staff to discuss:
- Patient access to care;
- Barriers to access and affordable treatments;
- Role of state government and local involvement;
- Working with payers and insurance companies to address issues; and
- ACR advocacy tools and resources.
Throughout the program, attendees were able to break out into small groups to discuss the types of stories that resonate with policymakers, as well as practice advocating for themselves. Following Advocacy 101, attendees were able to join other ACR staff and volunteer leaders at the Advocacy Leadership Conference (ALC) for additional training and Capitol Hill visits as part of the ACR’s annual fly-in. This year, the ALC focused on physician shortages and the harm of the copay accumulator program.
Many rheumatologists feel the effects of workforce shortages in the field and see the need to increase residency and fellowship slots, especially in specialties such as rheumatology, Dr. Alexander said. “We have an abundance of applicants for rheumatology, and legislation is needed to help increase the number of slots funded by Medicare,” she said, adding that caps on the number of Medicare-funded residency slots at teaching hospitals imposed in 1997 under the Balanced Budget Act largely remain in place.