2017-09-21 13:44:58 UTC

GIs Take On Capitol Hill

Sept. 21, 2017

Health care reform, colonoscopy screening and NIH funding were on the agenda for members during AGA Advocacy Day.

During AGA’s annual Joint Committee weekend, 55 AGA members collectively attended 79 meetings with staff from the offices of their House representatives and senators last week, lobbying for the top concerns of gastroenterologists across the country, including:

  1. Continued coverage of patients through either the Affordable Care Act or another bill that has the patient’s best interest in mind. More specifically, one that provides coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and for children under their parents' plan until 26 years of age, among many other important provisions.
  2. Changes in health care language that labels a colonoscopy for cancer screening as "therapeutic," which renders a large co-pay for patients. 
  3. Increased funding for the NIH.

Participants shared their experiences from their time on Capitol Hill in the AGA Community forum, and encouraged others to get involved. Here are some of their reasons why:

  • Your voice matters: You are constituents — which translates to votes in the minds of representatives and senators — and providing face-to-face conversation with their staffers shows them that you care about your patients and their needs, explains Siddharth Singh, MD.
  • Being consistent gets your foot in the door: Some staffers recognized and remembered previous Advocacy Day participants, like Peter Liang, MD, MPH. Personally connecting could lead to follow-up communication and advocacy efforts, such as institution and in-district meetings with legislators, says Sarah Streett, MD, AGAF. 
  • You’re indirectly (and sometimes directly) connecting with decision-makers: Staff members from these offices work closely with the legislators who evaluate which policies to support or oppose. “So it’s important to come to Washington, build relationships and make the case for our science, our specialty and our patients,” says Kim Barrett, PhD, AGAF.
  • Others could be advocating against you on the same issues: “I very strongly believe that it is important to keep letting our legislators know how we feel and what we believe in, because if we don't, someone else certainly will,” shares Deborah Proctor, MD, AGAF. 
  • It’s a rewarding experience: “Although it is easy to sit back and watch the issues we care about unfold, it is more fulfilling and productive to voice these concerns to your representatives who embrace the stories of how their decisions and policies affect your patients, practice, research and institution,” explains Susan Ramdhaney, MD, AGAF.
  • It’s a critical time to take action: With the current health care environment, gastroenterologists need to express the needs of their patients and profession, Dr. Streett explains.

View the full discussion and read updates from colleagues who visited with legislative staffers from New York, California, North Carolina and Oregon in the forum. 

If you couldn’t make it to this year’s event, Brijen Shah, MD, and other participants encourage you to read the briefs on the three issues and consider calling or writing to your congressmen and women, and to include a personal patient story in your email or letter. To learn more about engaging with your representatives please contact agaadvocacy@gastro.org.