For example, with help and support from the RheumPAC, the ACR played a role in getting the Arthritis Prevention, Control, and Cure Act, passed by the House last year, says Sharad Lakhanpal, MD, chair of the GAC and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Unfortunately, it never came up for a vote in the Senate because the presidential election distracted that body from so much of its business, he says. But it has been reintroduced this Congress.
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In the case of the DXA bill, Dr. Lakhanpal notes that RheumPAC supports Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), a member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health and sponsor of the bill. “Rep. Berkley has stated that this issue is one of her top priorities in healthcare reform,” says Hackett. Rep. Berkley has osteoporosis and has firsthand experience with the importance of access to DXA screening for women’s health. Additionally, her husband, a physician, had to stop performing DXA scans in his office because of the low reimbursement. Dr. Lakhanpal also notes that a study by the Lewin Group found that the legislation could save Medicare more than $1 billion over a five-year period by reducing the number of hip fractures by screening for and treating osteoporosis.1
Regarding the SGR, “physicians haven’t had a raise in 10 years,” says John Goldman, MD, a solo practitioner in Atlanta, who supports RheumPAC. Without congressional “band-aids” that have been applied on an annual and then biannual basis to the SGR calculations, physicians would have faced sharp reductions in reimbursement. Those reductions would have amounted to 10.5% in the summer of 2008, when President George W. Bush vetoed the congressional SGR fix. Dr. Lakhanpal credits the ACR and RheumPAC with contributing to a congressional override of that veto.
Although RheumPAC has been an active advocate for legislation that could positively affect rheumatologic care, it may be too early to know whether it has changed the practice environment for the individual rheumatologist, says Dr. Birnbaum. “This is only its third year of business,” he says, adding that, “PACs are a long-term investment.”
Nonetheless, “supporting candidates fosters relationships and ensures that the ACR is at the table when discussing important healthcare issues,” says RheumPAC Chair Gary L. Bryant, MD. “RheumPAC makes these opportunities possible, which is especially key at this important time in history as significant healthcare reform is being debated.” Dr. Bryant is professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis–St. Paul.
ADVOCATE FOR RHEUMATOLOGY
The Advocates for Arthritis Conference, the ACR’s annual lobbying visit to Capitol Hill, will be held March 15–16, 2010. Rheumatologists, health professionals, and patients can apply to attend the conference online at www.rheumatology.org/advocacy.