Capitol Hill Report: Advocacy Team Adds Strength to Bullpen

April 8, 2011

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

Coinciding with opening day of the major league baseball season, the Academy welcomed Mark Pascu as its new Washington-based Regulatory Manager and Derek Brandt as the new Congressional Affairs Representative.

The Academy has been working to increase its profile and influence in Washington since I opened the DC office in 2005. These new staff will provide the Academy with additional depth to pursue many more opportunities to represent neurology where it counts, whether it be Congress, CMS and other regulatory agencies, or at fundraisers across the city.

Mark will focus on reimbursement issues and be the Academy's representative before regulatory agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the National Institutes of Health. Mark comes to us from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, where he served as director and counsel of federal affairs. He has Hill experience as a legislative assistant to former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA). He received his law and undergraduate degrees from Indiana University–Bloomington.

Derek recently relocated to Washington from the AAN's headquarters in Saint Paul, MN, where he administered the AAN's political action committee, BrainPAC, and provided support for grassroots and federal advocacy training programs. Derek has some political experience himself having served as the student senate president for the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science and history.

Mark (left) and Derek. No, the Academy's sign is not crooked; the 1890s Washington, DC, townhome office actually leans left!.

Sen. Risch Co-sponsors Neurology Bill

As I mentioned in the last Capitol Hill Report, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has introduced S. 597 which would add neurology to the list of specialties eligible for the 10-percent primary care incentive in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). This legislation was drafted with the bipartisan support of original co-sponsor Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Last week, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) signed on to this legislation at the request of two of his constituents, Jackie Whitesell, MD, and Brad Talcott, MD. Both traveled to DC along with 129 of their colleagues as a part of the Academy's annual Neurology on the Hill (NOH) event that occurred in early March. Together they met with Sen. Risch's staff who convinced him of this bills critical importance to patients with neurologic disease.

Derek and I met with Risch's staff this week and we discussed plans to encourage members of the Senate Finance Committee to co-sponsor and bring up the bill for consideration.

The 22 patient groups who last year signed a letter of support to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi also are activating their grassroots networks to generate more congressional support.

AAN in SGR Discussions

Derek and I also met with several key members of Congress this week including Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, Rep. Charles Boustany, MD (R-LA), and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). Although we are working on issues like CMS' elimination of the consult codes and the S. 597 mentioned above, fixing the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula often dominates a great amount of these discussions (as well as the potential for a government shutdown).

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I participated in a meeting with top Republican health staff focusing a long-term SGR fix. Last week, the Academy received a bipartisan letter from the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee soliciting our ideas on SGR reform. Academy leadership, including AAN President Robert Griggs, MD, FAAN, President-elect Bruce Sigsbee, MD, FAAN, and members of both the AAN Government Relations Committee and Medical Economics and Management Committee, are working on a response that, if implemented, would create a greatly different reimbursement system.

The final comments from the Academy will be reported here so be sure to check out my next Capitol Hill Report in two weeks.

Shutdown Still Looming—Introducing the Ryan Plan

As of this writing, Congress still is struggling to find an agreement to keep the government open after the current continuing resolution (CR) funding the government for FY 2011 expires on April 8.

House Republican Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his FY 2012 budget plan last week. The plan cuts $6.2 trillion in spending and will institute significant Medicare changes in 2022. "[N]ew Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in the same kind of health care program that members of Congress enjoy," Ryan wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on April 5. "Future Medicare recipients will be able to choose a plan that works best for them from a list of guaranteed coverage options. This is not a voucher program but rather a premium-support model. A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost."

The Academy is closely reviewing Ryan's budget proposal. On a first look it is interesting that the plan does not address the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate formula. Ryan put out an interesting video discussing the US budget problem, but providing few details. You can see it here.

Annual Meeting

As you read this, are you in Hawaii for the Academy's Annual Meeting? If so, come talk some politics with me anytime from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday through Friday. I'm usually near the escalators on the third floor of the Convention Center.

I also will be at the Best Care Expo demonstrating mock legislative visits on Monday from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and at the BrainPAC reception on Tuesday from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!