By Lily Jung, MD, FAAN
AAN.com Advocacy Editor
In the first week of March, over one hundred neurologists traveled to Washington, DC for the Sixth Annual Neurology on the Hill (NOH). These Academy members from across the country came to meet with members of Congress and discuss the Academy's top federal priorities. Historically, NOH participants represent a mix of advocacy experience—roughly a third of the participants have very little to no previous experience meeting with legislators. For this reason the program includes issue education and interactive preparation for Hill visits. The Academy supports the cost for participants to attend, provides all the necessary materials, and works with an outside consultant to schedule the Congressional appointments. The priority issues participants took to their members of Congress this year included:
Of the neurologists attending Neurology on the Hill, 43 were graduates of the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum, and an impressive 60 were new to the event .One of these new advocates was AAN.com's own Science Editor, John Henson, MD, FAAN, from Massachusetts. He joined veteran advocates, Anna Hohler, MD, and Pushpa Narayanaswami, MBBS, MD—both Palatucci Forum graduates—as well as Natalia Rost, MD, critical care fellow at Mass General Hospital, in visiting their legislator, senior Senator Ted Kennedy.
"I never realized how much fun advocacy is, and how critical it is to our work as neurologists," stated Dr. Henson.
In total, 165 congressional offices from 37 states were visited by the participants in the Sixth Annual NOH event.
Before the Hill visits, advocates were trained on the issues by John Booss, MD, FAAN, Glenn Graham, MD, PhD, FAAN, Glen Finney, MD, Bennett Lavenstein, MD, FAAN, and Mike Amery, the Academy's legislative counsel based in Washington, DC. Other Academy staff gave an overview of the Hill visits, while Christopher Kush, from the popular Soapbox Consulting, gave an entertaining how-to presentation.
On Tuesday morning before Hill visits participants are provided with breakfast and an opportunity to hear from members of Congress. During this year's breakfast, Lynn Parry, MD, a member of the State Affairs Committee from Colorado, introduced her Congressman, Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), as House sponsor of the Epilepsy Centers of Excellence legislation. Congressman Perlmutter gave an update on legislative issues of relevance to physicians. Also at the breakfast, Sara Austin, MD—the current Kenneth M. Viste Neurology Public Policy Fellow in the office of Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY)—described her experience in working with young but knowledgeable Hill staffers.
As a result of Neurology on the Hill, four cosponsors joined 119 other sponsors of HR 2818 supporting Epilepsy Centers of Excellence, and secured a commitment from the House Veteran's Affairs Committee to hold a hearing in the Health subcommittee. On the Senate side, Senators Collins, Domenici, and Lieberman joined five other cosponsors of S. 2004 (entitled "A bill to amend title 38, U.S. Code, to establish epilepsy centers of excellence in the Veterans Health Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes"), which has already passed the Senate VA Committee.
Following the Academy's visits, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced The Save Medicare Act of 2008 (S. 2785), which continues this year's 0.5% update through the end of 2008, provides a 1.8% update for 2009, and continues PQRI payments through the end of 2009. It also calls for quality reporting programs to provide incentives for voluntary participation, maintain a non-punitive stance, and remain exempt from budget neutrality requirements.
The Senate also passed an amendment providing a $2.1 billion increase to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, resulting in a 10.3% increase over levels in fiscal year 2008 for FY 2009. The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act (HR 3825) out of committee. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed the STOP Stroke Act on a voice vote.
The contacts made between neurology colleagues from all over the country are invaluable, as were their productive interactions with health legislative aides and legislators. It cannot be overemphasized how easy and effective it is to pick up the phone or send an email after having a face-to-face meeting with a legislator. I t also becomes easier to secure those personal contacts as time goes on.
I have now met with my congressman, Jim McDermott (D-WA), or one of his legislative aides, several years in a row. I saw him recently at a local fundraiser, and he spoke warmly of the lunch conversation we had enjoyed in the Members' Dining Room during Neurology on the Hill. I emailed one of my senator's legislative aides after my visit this year, to thank him for taking the time to meet with me, and received a personable response.
All of this makes Washington, DC, and our goals seem less far away—we just have to take the time to learn how it works and participate in the democratic process.
Within the past 24 months, Dr. Jung has received personal compensation as a speaker for Biogen, and as a consultant for Glaxo Smith Kline, Chromos, and VLST. Additionally, she has served as an expert witness for medical liability, personal injury, and felony cases in that period. Within the past five years, the author has received research support from Novartis and Biogen for clinical research.