Members met via Zoom with members of Congress and their staffs to advocate for priority issues, including expanding health coverage and access to telehealth
June 4, 2021 (ACP) -- Before the pandemic, American College of Physicians leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., every spring for one-on-one advocacy meetings with members of Congress and their staffs, but this year, ACP Leadership Day returned in a virtual format in late May that allowed members to speak up for patients and physicians without leaving home.
While in-person meetings have plenty of advantages, ACP members found that talking to politicians and influential aides via Zoom has its own benefits. “We were able to hold multiple meetings that would have been impossible to schedule if we'd been sprinting around the Capitol from office to office,” said Dr. Stephen D. Sisson, president of ACP Services. “And virtual meetings save many of our members from having to spend days traveling back and forth across the country.”
Whether in person or virtual, these meetings make a difference, Sisson said. “Advocacy is about more than just writing strongly worded letters,” he said. “It requires us to build relationships that promote change in a meaningful way and help us serve as resources for our government on issues related to health care. These connections are crucial.”
ACP leaders urged members of Congress and their staffs to support the following priorities:
- Expand health coverage and affordability
Congress should pass legislation to expand access to health coverage and make it more affordable by supporting policies that would continue expanded eligibility for higher premium tax credits to purchase coverage through the Affordable Care Act and provide higher federal payments for states to expand their Medicaid population.
- Train and support frontline physicians during and after COVID-19
Congress should pass legislation to ensure an adequate supply of internal medicine specialists trained in primary and comprehensive care that includes increasing Graduate Medical Education positions, addressing medical education debt, decreasing barriers to increase the number of international physicians in the United States, funding Title VII Health Professions grants and addressing the behavioral health and well-being of physicians.
- Support the value of primary and comprehensive care
Congress should pass legislation to ensure patients continue to have access to vital primary care services by stabilizing and improving payments for undervalued office-based visits under both Medicare and Medicaid, providing sufficient funding to prevent scheduled and future cuts in payments and maintaining incentives for physicians to transform their practices into Advanced Alternative Payment Models under the Medicare Quality Payment Program.
- Improve access to prescription drugs and reduce costs
Congress should pass legislation to improve access to prescription drugs by reducing excessive prescription drug costs through pricing transparency, providing authority to the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices under the Medicare Part D program, eliminating federal tax deductions for direct-to-consumer advertising and removing harmful step therapy protocols.
- Support essential public health and research initiatives
Congress should pass legislation to fund public health, medical and health services research initiatives. Congress should adopt a public health approach to reduce firearms-related injuries and deaths that includes dedicated funding for firearms violence prevention research, strengthening the criminal background check system, closing loopholes that allow domestic violence offenders to acquire firearms and promoting state adoption of extreme risk protection laws. Congress should pass legislation to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change on health.
- Promote health equity and social justice and eliminate disparities
Congress should pass legislation to promote health equity and social justice and eliminate racial/gender disparities in health care. Most importantly, they should advance policies to reduce discriminatory practices in law enforcement, bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, collect racial and ethnic data on health disparities and reduce pregnancy-related deaths among minorities and other underserved women.
- Expand access to telehealth services and promote patient safety/privacy
Congress should pass legislation to increase the flexibility and use of telehealth services as needed during and beyond the public health emergency because these services will continue to be vital to patient care.
“We've learned that it's really important to bring stories and anecdotes about what we and our patients have experienced in relation to these policies,” Sisson said. “These are powerful messages. They provide important context and a personal perspective about how things can be improved for patients and physicians.”
In a conversation prior to the second day of advocacy meetings, Sisson said he and other ACP members were scheduled to meet virtually with the two U.S. senators from his home state of Maryland. The ACP Maryland team also expected to meet with five of the state's eight House representatives, including its sole Republican representative.
“There is common ground,” Sisson said. “Everyone wants health care to be more affordable, and the pandemic has demonstrated the value of investing in research and access to care for everybody. It's so rewarding for us to be able to get our messages across and make a difference.”