Capitol Hill Report: As Congress Returns to "Work," Academy Continues Real Work on Your Behalf

September 17, 2010

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

Congress returned to DC last week and will likely adjourn around the first week of October. There are several key issues that need to be resolved, particularly around tax policies, but based on the number of candidate fundraising invitations I am receiving, I'd say that many of the legislators are in town to raise money before they head back to the campaign trail. In fact, the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reports they know of 415 fundraisers scheduled in Washington, DC, just in September.

One item of interest to neurology is the National Neurological Diseases Surveillance System Act of 2010 (H.R. 1362) that recently passed the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee. The Academy sent a letter of support for this bill which would create a coordinated surveillance system to collect and analyze data on neurologic diseases. Both the National MS Society and the Parkinson's Action Network, key allies of the Academy, are hopeful that this bill will pass the Congress this year.

Academy Fellowship Offers Chance to Shape Health Legislation

One of the Academy's key advocacy programs is the Viste Neurology Public Policy Fellowship (NPPF). Since 1995, the fellowship has put neurologists in the middle of the action on Capitol Hill. In fact, the last two fellows have had amazing experiences participating in the health reform debate.

Child neurologist Nassim Zecavati, MD, just completed her fellowship on the staff of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) who sits on the Finance Committee and was one of the six senators who headed up bipartisan negotiations on the health bill until they fell apart.

Dr. Zecavati was very enthusiastic about her experience and told me: "The NPPF allowed me to work in the Senate on health reform legislation that has since become law. The opportunity that the NPPF affords neurologists is unique, challenging, and tremendously rewarding. My year on Capitol Hill was full of historic moments that I will always remember."

You can read more about Dr. Zecavati's involvement in representing neurology in the September issue of AANnews®. Believe it or not, as of today I know of no Academy member planning on applying for the 2011-2012 fellowship which starts on September 1, 2011. The deadline for applying for is October 15, 2010.

Viste NPPF Selection Committee Chair David Charles, MD, FAAN, who served on the staff of Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) during his fellowship in 1997-98, also encourages Academy members to apply. "It is such an exciting time in Washington as work begins on implementing health care reform. It is a great opportunity to spend a year in our nation's capital and be a part historic changes that will affect all physicians," said Dr. Charles.

MS Ambassadors Ball Keeps AAN in Front of Legislative Leaders

It was a pleasure to represent the Academy at the National MS Society's 32nd annual Ambassadors Ball. The black tie event raised more than $1 million (including my successful bid on some Argentinean wine) for research and patient care. It drew a number of key congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). I had several good conversations about MS, neurology, and health care with Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY); House Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and both co-chairs of the MS Congressional House Caucus, Congressmen Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX) and Russ Carnahan (D-MO).

The MS Society continues to be one of the Academy's best allies on Capitol Hill and from the strength of the event last week they are clearly a group we want to be aligned with. Teaming up with them and other patient groups on legislation like H.R. 1362, putting a neurologist in a congressional office each year through the Viste Neurology Public Policy Fellowship, and even attending a few of those events work wonders as we raise the profile and influence of neurology on Capitol Hill.