Taking Advocacy to the Courts

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In numerous friend-of-the-court briefs, ACP offers insights to judges in hopes of protecting patient care

April 19, 2019 (ACP) – While efforts to lobby Congress and the White House get the lion's share of attention, the advocacy efforts of the American College of Physicians don't end there. Today, ACP also has become an influential voice in the justice system that assertively advocates for patients and the national health system when crucial cases come before judges.

“More than any other time I can recall, we are being asked to submit briefs in court cases and make the case for protecting patients,” said Bob Doherty, ACP's senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy. “We're dedicated to marshaling arguments that will persuade judges to make decisions in line with ACP policies and priorities.”

In collaboration with its allies, ACP has signed onto several amicus curiae briefs in recent months. These “friend of the court” briefs offer helpful outside perspective to judges as they make their rulings in court cases.

“In an ideal world, you'd be able to bring your arguments to Congress or the presidential administration and convince them to act in a way that protects patients,” Doherty said. “But it doesn't always work that way. In some cases, an administration will issue a policy or rule that is extremely harmful to patients, and a lawsuit is filed. That's when we step in to provide guidance to judges so they understand that patient care is at stake.”

Recent ACP actions in court have included:

  • Joining with the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry to oppose a Texas lawsuit's bid to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

    A judge ruled against the ACA, and the Trump administration is working to uphold that ruling on appeal. ACP is sticking to its guns.

    “Millions of people would lose coverage if the Affordable Care Act is struck down with no replacement,” Doherty said. “It would have an absolutely devastating impact.”

  • Joining allies in a successful bid to convince a federal judge to rule against efforts to require Medicaid recipients to meet work requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky. In a joint statement issued in March, ACP and the other groups, including the AMA, noted that the judge cited their friend-of-the-court brief in his ruling.

    “This is an important victory for us,” Doherty said, “since the work requirements are inconsistent with the purpose of Medicaid and the law.”

  • Uniting with allies to file a brief opposing the Trump administration's decision to extend the duration of short-term insurance plans. ACP fears that patients will suffer because the plans are not required to meet many of the patient protections mandated by standard insurance regulations and known to improve health outcomes.

  • Signing onto a legal brief calling for the reversal of the Trump administration's decision this year to impose a gag order on clinicians who provide family planning services that are funded by the federal Title X Family Planning program. ACP believes the gag order interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and creates new burdens for medical personnel.

“In many areas, the current administration has implemented policies that run afoul of protections in federal law,” Doherty said. “That's why you're seeing so much action in the courts. It's also why ACP has stepped up its advocacy in the legal system.”

“It's crucial for us to be a trusted voice in the courts, just as we are in other parts of the government,” Doherty said. “We must work on all fronts – Congress, White House and the federal judicial system – to fulfill our role as advocates for health care and as protectors of the patients our members serve.”

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