On Sept. 12–13, a group of more than 100 rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals and patients will converge on Capitol Hill to take part in advocacy efforts and provide education on issues affecting the rheumatology community.
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During the 2016 Advocates for Arthritis event, the group will visit more than 100 Congressional offices, says ACR Government Affairs Committee Chair Will Harvey, MD, MSc, FACR. “We’ve had a lot of success with members of Congress meeting with constituents with a particular rheumatological problem or caring for someone with a particular problem. … We try to bring in people who have stories to tell about how the system did or did not work for them, to help them see it impacts a patient’s life and is not just abstract.”
In particular, the group plans to meet with members and staff of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as with members and staff of the Senate Finance Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. Each has jurisdiction over Medicare issues or general health policy.
The group will focus on four main goals, explains Dr. Harvey, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston:
- Pushing for changes to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Medicare Part B drug payment demonstration, which will “dramatically cut” physician reimbursement for in-office infusions, Dr. Harvey says, potentially exposing patients to more risk and additional expenses, either to them or the healthcare system;
- Increasing biomedical research funding for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases;
- Asking Congress to officially recognize September as Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month; and
- Eliminating the annual services cap on physical therapy (PT). “We are supporting a bill that would make a permanent exemption for treatment caps,” Dr. Harvey says. “A lot of our patients use PT. It’s an adjunctive treatment that we rely on very heavily [in addition to medication]. Our colleagues in PT make our patients stronger.”
For the second year in a row, the participants also include 12 rheumatology fellows and two academic program directors learning more about the importance government policy plays in the daily lives of physicians. “We call it Advocacy 101,” says Dr. Harvey.
Election Year Challenges
Because this is an election year, many members of Congress may be away campaigning, so Dr. Harvey anticipates more interactions with staff than usual. And although most delegates are “eager to demonstrate to their constituents they are working for them,” he adds, members from both parties may also be more reluctant than usual to support some of the group’s efforts.
“We are asking them to consider things not traditionally in their party’s wheelhouse,” says Dr. Harvey.
He also hopes to raise awareness about the lesser-known conditions that fall under the umbrella of rheumatic diseases, such as lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome. September is the first-ever Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month, which is being introduced by the ACR and its public awareness campaign, Simple Tasks. The request to officially recognize the month of September as Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month will be a good talking point to raise awareness with constituents during the event.
Dr. Harvey says, “We are building an education platform [from which] to sow fertile ground for conversations in the future. It’s a relentless process.”
Kelly April Tyrrell writes about health, science and health policy. She lives in Madison, Wis.