The 2018 U.S. midterm elections mobilized American voters, bringing more than 100 million people to the polls.1 It also brought the House of Representatives under the control of Democrats, while Republicans maintained control of the Senate, splitting the legislative branch between two parties.
As the 116th Congress prepares to convene in January 2019, the ACR’s Government Affairs Committee (GAC) and rheumatology’s political action committee, RheumPAC, are already at work advocating for rheumatology providers and patients.
1st Order of Business
The first order of business, says GAC Chair Angus Worthing, MD, FACR, FACP, is to get to know the newest members of Congress. RheumPAC plays a pivotal role in doing so by providing the necessary investment.
“RheumPAC is truly what sustains us and starts our relationships with members of Congress and new congressional committee chairs in health-related committees,” says Dr. Worthing. “We can use that to educate representatives, senators and their staff, and work with them on legislation important to us and our patients.”
Zach Wallace, MD, MSc, newly elected chair of RheumPAC, says the PAC will soon make decisions about who to support.
“We will go through the lists and decide who to contribute RheumPAC money to based on which members have been strong supporters of our interests in the past and who is in position to enact the changes we are looking for today,” he says.
ACR members are strongly encouraged to aid in matters of importance to rheumatology and rheumatology patients by donating to RheumPAC.
Because the ACR and RheumPAC are nonpartisan, even with a divided government, Dr. Worthing expects to continue to advocate for “commonsense reforms with bipartisan appeals,” including legislation to address patient access to care and out-of-pocket drug costs.
What the House Flip Means for Rheumatology
Because of the flip in the House, attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act are likely off the table for now.
A Democrat-controlled House may also be more likely to support the ACR’s request for $20 million in funding for rheumatologic disease in the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) budget, Dr. Worthing says, although he notes the ACR has appreciated the funding boost through the NIH passed by previous sessions of Congress.
He and Dr. Wallace are also optimistic because legislators may be more inclined to work across the aisle on bipartisan bills that favor rheumatology. For example, the Senate could introduce a companion bill to H.R.2077, Restoring the Patient’s Voice Act of 2017, that would permit exemptions to step therapy.
“I think any election is a big moment to take a step back and think [about] what the priorities were that shaped the election outcomes. One [thing that was] consistent across the board was the importance of healthcare,” says Dr. Wallace. “Both parties are passionate about doing what they think is best for patients and the country, and this is a great opportunity for rheumatologists to educate members of both parties on where we can all see eye to eye.”
Voter Enthusiasm = RheumPAC Support?
Dr. Wallace is hopeful rheumatologists who showed up at the polls maintain their enthusiasm and turn it into support for RheumPAC.
Dr. Worthing is thrilled so many people came out to vote. “I hope rheumatologists were there, and I hope they continue to stay active, lending their voices to [appeals to] elected officials.”
Rheumatologists and rheumatology professionals can go to the ACR’s Legislative Action Center to send emails to their legislators on topics of importance. And they can connect with their elected officials on social media and in their home districts.
“It’s a great idea for rheumatologists to meet with members of Congress when they’re at home, and even invite them to visit their clinics,” says Dr. Worthing.
- Astor M, Stack L. Midterm turnout was up. How much? We don’t know yet. The New York Times. 2018 Nov 9. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/09/us/politics/election-turnout.html.
Kelly April Tyrrell writes about health, science and health policy. She lives in Madison, Wis.