Earlier in the year, it seemed that healthcare reform was stopped in its tracks because of the Massachusetts Senate special election—which placed Republican Scott Brown in the seat held by the “Liberal Lion,” Edward M. Kennedy. The Senate Democrats lost their supermajority and the momentum to pass President Obama’s healthcare reform legislation subsided. But through strong lobbying by the president, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590)—comprehensive healthcare reform—on March 21, and the president signed the bill into law on March 23.
A number of factors almost blocked the passage of healthcare reform. During this process we learned that passing legislation—and developing policies that benefit patients, support physicians and health professionals, advance health research, and improve the U.S. healthcare system—is a very difficult task. Filibusters, party politics, closed-door negotiations, congressional rules, parliamentary procedure, and strong political ideologies all affect legislation and health policies moving through Congress.
Although creating beneficial health policies is not an easy battle, it is still worth the fight. Thus, the ACR continues to educate lawmakers and urge support of issues directly affecting rheumatology professionals and patients living with arthritis, rheumatic, and musculoskeletal diseases by going to Capitol Hill and speaking to Congress.
Speaking for Rheumatology on Capitol Hill
Over the years, the ACR has made an impact in Washington. ACR and ARHP members have formed solid relationships with congressional members and their staffs. Offices recognize the ACR logo, and staff desktops include the ACR’s leave-behind item—a bone-shaped stress-reliever—a reminder of meeting people who passionately conveyed personal stories. Some of the stories told on Capitol Hill over the years include those of a young girl with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis who cannot participate in recess or walk up the stairs for her fifth-grade class and a 9/11 firefighter with scleroderma. These patients are living proof of the importance of rheumatology and are not easily forgotten.
Each spring, the ACR goes to Capitol Hill for Advocates for Arthritis to educate Congress on hot issues affecting the rheumatology community. This year, the Advocates for Arthritis fly-in was held March 15–16. During the event, more than 120 rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals, and patient advocates walked the halls of Congress to lobby legislators on important issues affecting the rheumatology community.
Advocates spoke to Congress about a number of issues, including:
- A permanent repeal to the sustainable growth rate;
- The negative effects of the elimination of consultation codes;
- Legislation to ensure access to osteoporosis testing;
- The creation of a pediatric subspecialty loan repayment program;
- The Arthritis Prevention, Control, and Cure Act; and
- A continued increase for arthritis research funding.
Next month, the ACR board of directors will go to Capitol Hill to reiterate the importance of these issues and expand our network of congressional supporters. As leaders of the ACR, board members dedicate time to ensure that members of Congress are reminded of the issues important to the rheumatology community.
Small Steps Toward Big Legislation
In the 110th Congress, the Arthritis Prevention, Control, and Cure Act (H.R. 1283/S. 626)—a priority of the ACR—passed the U.S. House of Representatives. After four years of educating Congress, urging co-sponsorship, and meeting with House and Senate leadership, Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-Calf.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) ushered the bill through the House only for it to be stopped in the Senate due to the congressional calendar—namely, the 2008 elections—and Senate rules.