In 2007, the ACR established a political action committee, known as RheumPAC. Three years later, the PAC has raised more than $130,000, contributed to the campaigns of dozens of senators and congress-people who support legislation that could benefit rheumatology, and attended countless meetings, fundraisers, and one-on-one discussions with federal elected officials and their staffs.
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Explore This IssueNovember 2009
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Genesis of the PAC
Before RheumPAC’s founding, and to begin to address the many legislative issues that could affect the practice of rheumatology, “the ACR Government Affairs Committee [GAC] had developed a legislative agenda that was vigorous and required an audible voice in Congress,” which the ACR did not have at the time, says Joseph Flood, MD, who was the GAC chair when the agenda was developed, and is a rheumatologist in solo practice and clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health in Columbus.
One agenda item was the Arthritis Prevention, Control, and Cure Act, a bill that would provide patient education, loan forgiveness for pediatric rheumatologists as an incentive to encourage new doctors to enter the field, and many other benefits for patients with arthritis and the subspecialty of rheumatology. The need to enact such legislations is pressing: in the United States, there are only about 237 pediatric rheumatologists, including those who work in research and academic settings. In contrast, there are nearly 300,000 children who need rheumatologic care, says Aiken Hackett, director of government affairs for the ACR. Until recently, eight states had no pediatric rheumatologists; this year Montana, a state that stretches roughly 700 miles by road east to west, lost its lone pediatric rheumatologist, raising the state total to nine. Specialist care is needed because “many of the medications we give have fairly severe side effects and must be monitored regularly,” says Maura Iversen, PT, DPT, SD, MPH, the ARHP representative on the RheumPAC committee, and assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, professor and chair of the department of physical therapy at Northeastern University, and clinical researcher in rheumatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, all in Boston. Specialists such as rheumatologists are trained and experienced in managing long-term medications for chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Supporting candidates fosters relationships and ensures that the ACR is at the table when discussing important healthcare issues. RheumPAC makes these opportunities possible.
—Gary L. Bryant, MD
Increasing the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is also a priority for medical specialty societies, says Dr. Flood. Over the last several years, the NIH’s budget had flatlined, “threatening our members who had ongoing grants and making it harder for new rheumatology investigators to get any grants,” says Dr. Flood.