My predecessor, Dr. Robert C. Griggs, and I have put considerable emphasis on the Academy’s advocacy activities. Even so, I still talk to members who are unaware of our efforts or can’t grasp why advocacy is necessary for a profession based on helping our fellow human beings.
I have invited Elaine C. Jones, MD, FAAN, chair of our Government Relations Committee, to brief you on the AAN’s advocacy efforts in Washington as well as at the state level. Along with contacting your members of Congress when asked, you can get more actively involved by applying for the upcoming Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum or Neurology on the Hill. Visit www.aan.com/go/advocacy for more information.
Bruce Sigsbee, MD, FAAN
The AAN is well known for its science and educational activities. Members may be less familiar with its role in advocacy and legislative arenas. However, the Academy is actively and aggressively involved in advocating for our profession and for neurology patients. The staff in the AAN’s Center for Health Policy works closely with the volunteer AAN members on the Government Relations Committee (GRC) and Medical Economics and Management Committee (MEM). The GRC is responsible for the legislative work of the AAN and MEM is responsible for regulatory and payment issues.
The Academy formed the GRC in 2009 by combining the Legislative Affairs Committee, which worked on federal advocacy, and the State Affairs Committee, which focused on state advocacy. The vision of the GRC is to be indispensable to our members in the legislative and advocacy arenas, in keeping with the AAN’s overall vision of being indispensable to our members. While most of us understand what legislative activities are all about, not everyone understands the advocacy work. In its simplest form, according to Merriam–Webster, advocacy refers to “one that pleads the cause of another.” Most of us advocate every day for our patients without even thinking about it. The Academy helps us do this in a coordinated fashion for our profession as well as our patients.
Everyone is acutely aware of federal health care reform changes. Battles over constitutionality and cost aside, health care models in the US are changing. The GRC is monitoring and commenting on legislation that directly impacts our practices and our patients’ access to care. We are tirelessly working on SGR fixes and malpractice reform.
Over the past few years, we have been advocating for physicians involved in cognitive care to receive the same increased reimbursement that is going to physicians in primary care. Great strides have been made in getting members of Congress to understand the problem is one of incentivizing time spent with patients and not on procedures. Due directly to these efforts, a recent bill introduced by Reps. Schwartz (D–PA) and Heck (R–NV) in the House of Representatives had language that would include neurology and other cognitive care specialists in any further increased payments.
The GRC is actively involved in advocating for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health and other research support, as well as fighting for funding for graduate medical education. These are two areas that are at risk for cuts in the next budget cycle and would have a huge negative impact on our profession.
The GRC also works at the state level, which is more complicated since with 50 states there can be 50 different takes on the same legislative issue. Common themes do occur, however. We have worked with neurologists in Maine and Idaho on passing antiepileptic substitution bills that were favorable to our patients. In Connecticut, we collaborated on bills about mandatory reporting and physician immunity legislation that passed. This year, another collaborative effort has been in the area of sports concussion and youth athletes returning to play. In Florida, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, the AAN had a direct impact on the legislation that passed.
We hesitate to inundate members with too many emails and communications, but with so many things going on at the state and federal level, it is vital that we communicate with you and that you communicate with us. To help with this, the GRC is launching AAN Grassroots Alliance, a new key contact program at both the state and federal levels for members that we will pilot in 10 select states. We also are focusing on communication and collaboration with state neurologic societies and medical societies.
Occasionally, we need you to support our efforts by contacting your state’s lawmakers. When key legislation reaches a critical juncture, we will send you an Action Alert and provide you with access to a simple online tool that enables you to directly contact legislators (state or federal) and weigh in on an issue that is critical to neurology. Watch for these Action Alerts and please respond. It literally takes three clicks and a flood of contacts will be sent to legislators.
Finally, as most of you know, the Supreme Court did not overturn the mandate associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In fact, most of the ACA was upheld. While the ramifications of this are still being debated on the political front, this is probably good for our patients as it maintains access to care and medications. Much information will be coming out in the next months as to how this will affect our practices. The upcoming elections are likely to have huge implications as well. Republicans and Democrats have different approaches to the future of this country. The focus of the GRC and the AAN is not to choose sides but to make sure we are at the table no matter who is in control so we can “plead the cause” of our profession and our patients.
We need your active involvement or we risk placing our future in the hands of politicians who do not understand the significance of our contributions to the health of our patients.
Visit www.aan.com/go/advocacy today.
Elaine C. Jones, MD, FAAN
Chair, AAN Government Relations Committee