RheumPAC, the ACR’s nonpartisan political action committee (PAC), works to support interests and priorities of rheumatology providers and patients on Capitol Hill. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has continued to support vital legislation and educate legislators and their staff on issues that affect rheumatology and the impact of proposed policies on the specialty.
RheumPAC “is the voice of rheumatology providers and patients in Washington, D.C.,” says Zachary Wallace, MD, RheumPAC chair. “This enables the ACR to get a seat at the table where critical decisions are made at the federal level about how care is delivered, reimbursement for care and research funding.”
Supporting Those Who Support Us
RheumPAC raises money to support the campaigns of candidates for Congress who are in positions to lead on the issues of importance to the ACR and its members and who have a history of championing ACR priorities. Supporting members of Congress through RheumPAC gives ACR advocates the opportunity to meet face-to-face with lawmakers where they can convey the importance of certain legislative efforts.
“RheumPAC is a way for the ACR to open doors and gain access to legislators,” says Dan Redinger, ACR’s manager of public affairs. “Once open, we are able to teach legislators about problems we are facing and educate them on ways they can help both rheumatologists and patients. We, in turn, support those who are helpful on our issues.”
Pandemic Changes in Operation
COVID-19 has forced changes in the way RheumPAC operates. “Traditionally we go to fundraisers in D.C. and in districts to talk to legislators, but all of these were suspended by the pandemic,” says Dr. Wallace. “We looked for innovative ways to keep in touch with members and support the campaigns of those who have championed our concerns in the past.”
In May, RheumPAC hosted a virtual happy hour, where Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) joined in remote discussion with donors. Rheumatologists were able to ask him questions about plans for COVID-related relief and what to expect from upcoming legislation.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we advocated for updated evaluation and management code reimbursement,” said RheumPAC member Bonita Libman, MD, a rheumatologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Burlington. “Historically, rheumatologists have been paid at much lower rates than other specialties. The 15% reimbursement increase [in the 2020 CMS Physician Fee Schedule final rule] was a major win and quite significant.”
RheumPAC has stayed busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting legislation to:
- Raise telehealth reimbursement so it was at parity with in-person visits;
- Advocate for grant and loan programs to support practices facing financial impacts from pandemic-related shutdowns; and
- Renew the Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program to address workforce issues in pediatric rheumatology.
COVID-19 Reduces Donations But Need Still Acute
COVID-19’s financial impact on rheumatology practices has reduced donations to the PAC.
“During the pandemic we halted fundraising efforts because of the unprecedented stress it was having on practices and providers,” says Dr. Wallace, a rheumatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. “However, the work doesn’t stop. It is through these contributions that we are able to get a seat at the table.”
Now more than ever, staying in touch with members of Congress is important. They are working on legislation affecting medical care in general and rheumatologists in particular. In addition, RheumPAC needs funds to continue support for long-standing relationships built up over the years.
“When we meet with congressional members and their staffs, it isn’t just ‘Hi, how are you,’” says Dr. Libman. “We can explain our concerns and open a good dialog. This, in turn, often leads to support for legislation helpful to the clinician and the patient.”
RheumPAC works to keep the views of rheumatology in front of those making decisions at the federal level.
“There is an old saying that if you’re not at the table, you are on the menu,” says Mr. Redinger. “We need to make sure our voice is heard over the many competing ones that are in touch with members of Congress. Because of RheumPAC, we have these relationships and access to discuss our core issues with one voice.”
U.S. ACR/ARP members can donate to help ensure the ACR has a seat at the table for future discussions on Capitol Hill.
Kurt Ullman is a freelance writer based in Indiana.
Contributions to RheumPAC are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes. All contributions to RheumPAC are voluntary and must be made with personal funds. You may refuse to contribute without reprisal. Any proposed contribution amounts are merely suggestions; you may choose to contribute more or less or not at all. RheumPAC will not favor or disadvantage anyone by reason of the amount contributed or the decision not to contribute. Federal law prohibits contributions from corporations. RheumPAC participants must be United States citizens or permanent resident aliens.