By Sabra Sullivan, MD, PhD
Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining nearly 150 of my colleagues and patient advocates in Washington, D.C., for the American Academy of Dermatology Association's (AADA) 2013 Legislative Conference. We had a lot of residents, young physicians, and new faces, as well as those who have been on the Hill many times before. It’s obvious that we’re growing and together we are building an engaged, collective, and strong voice for dermatologists and our patients!
This event resembles less of a seminar and more of boot camp. For two days we were drilled with advocacy training that covered interesting — and sometimes disconcerting — discussions with policy experts. We studied the intricate details of the most pressing public health issues and worked on strategies to manage the inevitable challenges facing our health care system. To finish it up, we spent a full day in the offices of the Senate and the House on Capitol Hill to meet with 205 members of Congress and their staff, who represent 33 states.
The Legislative Conference is not a culminating event. It is a springboard for continuous and robust grassroots advocacy efforts. We must choose to serve as advocates for our patients 365 days a year.
Having a voice is critical. I gathered that from my meetings with Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker that while they may not always agree with what we have to say, they appreciate hearing from us as constituents with physician expertise because we provide insight that they don’t get from committees or legislation. The specialty of dermatology is a trusted voice.
Although I have recovered from boot-camp fatigue physically, I cannot shake the sense of urgency facing our specialty and our patients. Just a few weeks ago, our AADA President Dirk Elston, MD, issued an alert about the specialty being under siege. We are indeed facing significant challenges. I am proud that our specialty is not succumbing to political fatigue and burying our heads in the sand. Rather, dermatology is at the table for these discussions and is offering bipartisan solutions. Our stand on these issues affecting all of us is on the record!
Specifically, we discussed:
- Eliminating the sustainable growth rate formula and replacing it with a reformed system that enables physicians of all practice types and settings to provide high-quality, affordable care to patients.
- Supporting the Patients’ Access to Treatments Act (H.R. 460) and the generation of a similar bill in the Senate.
- Unintended consequences of pending CMS rulings that might limit patient access to phototherapy and other services.
- Preserving of the ability of dermatologists to provide dermatopathology services.
- Supporting the FDA’s proposed order to reclassify sunlamps from a Class 1 device to Class 2.
- Increasing research funding, which is at the lowest level since 2001.
- Asking members of the House to join the newly formed Skin Cancer Caucus and asking members in the Senate to sponsor a similar caucus.
We discussed how we have been active as a specialty with programs in telemedicine (AccessDerm), PQRS, the AAD Appropriate Use Criteria for Mohs Micrographic Surgery, and the upcoming Choosing Wisely Campaign. The AADA has weighed in on no less than five requests from congressional committees about physician payment reform alone, and continues to respond to all questions on many bills and issues. Sometimes it seems to me we are answering these questions on an hour-to-hour basis. Never doubt that we are involved and representing the interests of all dermatologists.
The AADA Legislative Conference was a monumental endeavor on the part of our specialty; however, our advocacy efforts cannot stop there. I plan to follow up with emails, phone calls, meetings with policymakers in my district to keep them updated about our issues. I hope you'll join me in doing the same.
For physicians who didn’t get the chance to attend the Legislative Conference, you can still be involved. Respond to the AADA's advocacy alerts; visit your members of Congress in your home district; log on to the AADA Dermatology Advocacy Network (DAN) website and send letters to the Hill about our issues. In particular, the AADA is calling on all members to log on to the DAN site to view and submit suggested language for a letter to their members of Congress opposing the Promoting Integrity in Medicare Act of 2013, which would eliminate the exception to the Medicare Stark Law that allows physicians to provide anatomic pathology services within their offices.
It’s important to note that our involvement is making a difference. We need to continue to participate … and then participate again. Dermatology is in danger and every single member needs to be involved in advocacy as we transition through these health care changes. The Legislative Conference is not a culminating event. It is a springboard for continuous and robust grassroots advocacy efforts. We must choose to serve as advocates for our patients 365 days a year.
Sabra Sullivan, MD, PhD, FAAD is chair of the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) Congressional Policy Committee, member of the AADA Council on Government Affairs, Health Policy and Practice, and an alternate delegate for the Dermatology Section Council in the American Medical Association House of Delegates. Dr. Sullivan practices in Jackson, Miss.
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