Capitol Hill Report: Neurologists Storm Capitol Hill

March 9, 2012

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By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs, (202) 506–7468, mamery@aan.com

The American Academy of Neurology hosted its 10th annual Neurology on the Hill on February 28, bringing 142 neurologists from 43 states to Washington, DC. About half of the participants were first–time attendees and together the group visited 220 congressional offices.

This year we asked participants to bring their personal stories to Capitol Hill, to talk about how as neurologists they care for their patients and make an impact in their communities. Showing the value of neurology in a personal way will help advance physician payment reforms to incentivize cognitive specialties like neurology.

Congressman Todd Rokita (R–IN) (third from the left) met with the AAN Indiana delegation during Neurology on the Hill.

Advocates educated members of Congress and their staffs about how the crisis in primary care extends to cognitive physicians who bill the same codes and have similar incomes and recruiting problems. They argued that any efforts to improve the practice climate for primary care needs to include cognitive physicians. Attendees also raised the importance of research on the future of treatment for neurologic conditions and asked Congress to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health. If you haven't sent your action alert to your members of Congress on NIH funding, please do so now.

Our Message Hits the Mark

I talked with my colleagues at the American Academy of Rheumatology who were on the Hill one week later on the very same cognitive care issue. From what they say, congressional staffers were able to recite our arguments back to their advocates because of the work that neurologists did the week before.

We saw further evidence of this last week when AAN Congressional Affairs Representative Derek Brandt and I attended events for both the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees. We met with more than 30 members including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV). We heard from many of them that AAN advocates had been in their offices and had presented the issues well.

I can't thank everyone enough for taking the time to fly to DC to support the Academy, your profession, and your patients.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Discussing Payment Reforms

I spoke with a number of members of the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee recently, including the chair of the Health Subcommittee, Rep. Joe Pitts (D–PA). The big question for the committee is whether anything is going to happen regarding physician payment reform before the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula cuts take effect on January 1, 2013.

The Academy is advocating that Congress eliminate the SGR or provide some type of long–term fix, arguing that productive discussions regarding transitioning to new payment models are unlikely to occur while providers are constantly facing the threat of a massive cut.

It's clear E&C members want to avoid a post–election, lame–duck session to fix the SGR. Rep. Bill Cassidy, MD, (R–LA) a gastroenterologist who knows as much about physician payment as anyone in Congress, told me that he's thinking about working with Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D–PA) on a proposal to create innovative new payment plans. If you have been reading Capitol Hill Report you know that we have great concerns about Schwartz's proposal which increases payments for primary care providers greater than for other providers. Dr. Cassidy assured me that he is very aware and concerned about this issue and that E&C staff are unlikely to put a similar split into Republican sponsored legislation.

Rep. Dan Benishek, MD, (R–MI) who is a general surgeon, also shared these sentiments with me when he said he was in similar discussions with Rep. Schwartz but had told her that splitting primary care payments from others is a non–starter.

This is certainly good news and a clear indication that our messaging is having an impact with members of Congress, but we will continue to be vigilant as we advocate for cognitive specialists on this issue.

Senator Pat Leahy, Robert Shapiro, MD, and Josepy McSherry, MD meet during Neurology on the Hill.

Headache on the Hill Success

Capitol Hill Report congratulates AAN member Robert Shapiro, MD, of Vermont for his efforts in increasing the awareness of the need for headache research. Dr. Shapiro is a 2007 Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum graduate and a multi–year participant in Neurology on the Hill.

In mid–February, a hearing on "Pain in America" was held before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. At the hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–VT) entered testimony drafted by Dr. Shapiro as president of the Alliance for Headache Disorders into the Congressional Record.

This represents real progress in gaining congressional awareness for patients with headache disorders and Dr. Shapiro and his headache colleagues deserve a lot of credit.

View Dr. Shapiro's testimony or listen to the hearing.