Capitol Hill Report: Schwartz/Heck Bill Introduced—Advocacy Efforts Reignite

May 18, 2012

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

As anticipated, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D–PA) and Rep. Joe Heck (R–NV) introduced the Medicare Physician Payment Innovation Act of 2012, HR 5707 with a provision strongly lobbied for by many AAN members that would ensure that higher payments for primary care providers include cognitive providers like neurologists. This represents a big success for the Academy as we have focused for several years on raising congressional awareness on the need to recognize cognitive providers.

The AAN endorsed the bill immediately upon introduction and AAN President Bruce Sigsbee, MD, FAAN, commented for a press release that, “The American Academy of Neurology strongly supports this effort to not only permanently eliminate the flawed SGR, but also to provide a path forward to innovative payment plans that ensure that all physician services are valued.”

Throughout the last week we have talked with key members of Congress about supporting the bill and how the change benefits neurology. We had conversations with Majority Leader Cantor (R–VA) and House Budget Chair Ryan (R–WI) mentioned below, as well as both Dave Camp (R–MI), chair of the House Ways & Means Committee and Fred Upton (R–MI), chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Of course, HR 5707 is a long way from becoming law, but the legislative ink has dried and the precedent is set. Congress wants to continue improve the practice climate for primary care, and from here on that should mean improving the climate for neurologists and other cognitive care providers as well.

You will be receiving an action alert asking you to contact your House member to support HR 5707. Please respond as soon as possible to this important piece of legislation for neurology.

Members Become Neurology Lobbyists for a Day

Last week, two neurologists joined me on Capitol Hill to experience for 24 hours what it’s like to live the life of a lobbyist. It was my delight and privilege to spend the day with Nilay R. Shah, MD, of New York City and Neil A. Busis, MD, FAAN, of Pittsburgh. Both are top supporters of the AAN’s advocacy efforts and Dr. Busis serves on the AAN Board of Directors and chairs the AAN’s Medical Economics and Management Committee.

During the day we toured the Capitol building and visited the congressional offices of the Pennsylvania and New York delegations to promote the value and role of neurology in the US health care system. We also were advocating for the bi–partisan bill that recently was introduced to fix the SGR and, for the first time, includes neurology and other cognitive specialists in its effort to promote primary care.

Nilay Shah, MD, (left) and Neil Busis, MD, FAAN, (right) meet with House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Of course, these congressional meetings can be done by anyone in DC, so the most enlightening part of the day was attending three political fundraisers on behalf of the AAN’s political action committee, BrainPAC. As discussed above, we talked personally with the Majority Leader Eric Cantor at one event, followed by meeting with seven Democratic representatives, including Energy & Commerce Committee members John Barrow (D–GA) and Dr. Busis’ congressman Mike Doyle (D–PA) at another event hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The day ended with a lunch hosted by the AAN for Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee.  I would like to thank Drs. Shah and Busis for taking the time to join me in Washington to learn how the AAN is advocating on their behalf.

Sequestration: Another Word for “Pain?”

Have you heard that word recently?  If not, you will soon and it very well could end up costing physicians some payments as well as drastically reduce the NIH budget. Last year, Congress passed a bill that provided for significant cuts to both military and domestic programs and called it “sequestration.” The legislation also created a deficit reduction “Super Committee” which was supposed to come to an agreement on reigning in the federal budget and prevent sequestration from being implemented on January 1, 2013.

We worked hard to influence the members of the Super Committee, but it failed miserably, leaving a two–percent across–the–board cut to physician payments and the NIH budget pending.

In our conversation with Ways & Means Chair Camp, he said that there seems to be a commitment on both sides of the aisle to avoid the cuts to the military, but he thinks the domestic spending cuts will be implemented, including cuts to physicians.

We will be watching this issue closely as the lame–duck train wreck approaches.

Members Share Thoughts at Annual Meeting

I really enjoyed connecting with many of you at the AAN’s Annual Meeting last month in New Orleans. If you saw me it was probably at the BrainPAC booth talking politics. I always get a kick out of the conversations that range from “why isn’t the AAN supporting a single–payer system” to “what is the AAN doing to repeal ObamaCare” and everything in between. I just pray they never happen at the same time.

One thing that does seem clear is that even if the AAN’s positions aren’t exactly the ones an individual AAN member holds, everyone seems to understand that AAN advocacy is a bipartisan effort and that we are in for the long haul to increase the influence and profile of neurology on Capitol Hill.

For those keeping score, AAN members contributed $78,000 to BrainPAC at the Annual Meeting, which was a 20–percent increase above last year in Honolulu.