The ACR now has a daily presence in our nation’s capital with the establishment of its first office in Washington, D.C. Opened officially on Dec. 11, the office gives a permanent working home to three professional ACR staff members: Lennie Shewmaker, JD, director of congressional affairs; Amanda Grimm Wiegrefe, MScHSRA, director of regulatory affairs; and Dan Redinger, manager of advocacy and political affairs.
These staff members are leading the ACR’s advocacy efforts and lobbying Congress and federal regulatory agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). They will also advance RheumPAC and grassroots advocacy for rheumatology, according to Adam Cooper, MS, senior director of government affairs.
Mr. Cooper says the ACR’s daily presence in Washington, D.C., will serve to protect long-overdue boosts in payment for services, address utilization management protocols and speak up on critical issues to support patients’ access to care and treatment.
A Stronger Voice on the Hill
For the past 20 to 30 years, the ACR has been represented by lobbying firms who have connections on the Hill and represent multiple clients. The new office in Washington, D.C., allows the ACR’s professional staff to become known as the face of the organization, explains ACR Executive Vice President Steven Echard, IOM, CAE. “We are happy that with this new ‘boots on the ground’ approach, we will also still benefit from the expertise at our current firm, Greenberg Traurig, which will stay on for the ACR,” he says.
ACR Government Affairs Committee Chair Blair Solow, MD, says having professional ACR advocacy staff in D.C. on a full-time, day-to-day basis will produce more opportunities to expand existing relationships, build new partnerships and respond effectively to time-sensitive issues. “Rheumatology advocacy efforts are built on a foundation of close relationships, and issues often arise in the moment,” she says.
Dr. Solow believes the ACR’s leadership in advocacy and health policy will be enhanced by this team in the capital to survey and respond quickly to ongoing issues that are important to ACR/ARP members.
Advancing Rheumatology Advocacy
The D.C.-based ACR staffers are currently asking Congress to protect gains for primary and cognitive care that were included in the final physician fee schedule regulations announced Nov. 1, 2019, by the CMS. These finalized regulations will boost evaluation and management (E/M) reimbursement by an estimated 15% for rheumatologists and reduce documentation time.
They are also lobbying for the Safe Step Act, which would prioritize patient needs by establishing reasonable parameters for the use of step therapy, and for improved oversight and transparency of prior authorization use. Efforts to address the workforce shortage are also on the agenda, by supporting legislation to reauthorize the expired Pediatric Specialty Loan Repayment Program and support the Strengthening our Pediatric Workforce Act of 2019, which would amend the Public Health Service Act.
As hearings and other policy meetings come up, these D.C. staffers will be there on behalf of the ACR/ARP membership to engage in ongoing communication with Congress and regulatory agencies on the critical issues impacting rheumatology.
Their proactive advocacy work will include hosting rheumatology advocates who visit the Hill to speak with senators and representatives in Congress. They also will advance the reach of RheumPAC, the rheumatology political action committee that facilitates educating, electing and supporting federal lawmakers who address the issues that impact rheumatology care providers and their patients.
Looking to engage in the ACR’s advocacy work? Get involved by exploring the Legislative Action Center to get legislative alerts and learn more about legislation impacting your practice.
Carina Stanton is a freelance science journalist based in Denver.