AAHPM — Winter Quarterly 2011
AAHPM Travels to Capitol Hill to Amplify the Voice of People with Serious Illness
Palliative care and hospice are proven to improve quality of care, quality of life, family caregiving experience, and healthcare efficiency, and more must be done to ensure an adequate palliative care work force is available to treat the rapidly expanding population of patients with serious or life-threatening illness. That was the message AAHPM members took to Capitol Hill this fall.
On September 19-21, AAHPM held its Capitol Hill Days— a “fly-in” to Washington, DC, that allowed 18 physician members of the Academy to promote the field of hospice and palliative medicine and advance AAHPM’s advocacy priorities with key policymakers. Attendees included members of the Academy’s Public Policy Committee and others selected based on their role on other AAHPM committees and the legislative district in which they live. Meetings were held with 60 Congressional offices, and events also included policy dialogues with officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Health Reform. The officials were invited to meet with AAHPM members in an effort to ensure that policies under development in these agencies take into account the needs of patients with serious illness.
During the Hill visits, participants helped members of Congress and their health policy staff learn more about the field and how palliative care and hospice can benefit patients. The Academy’s key “ask” in these meetings was that members support a draft bill designed to expand palliative care education and training. AAHPM has worked with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to craft the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) and must now find support to get the bill introduced. AAHPM members are uniquely able to deliver the message that high-quality palliative care cannot take place without sufficient numbers of health professionals who have appropriate training and skills. The Academy’s Washington-based lobbying firm, Hart Health Strategies, has been working to advance PCHETA but advises bringing Academy members to Capitol Hill. “Taking time away from one’s practice and daily care of patients makes a statement to members of Congress and allows them and their staff to hear directly from those on the front lines of health care,” says Vicki Hart, founder and president of Hart Health Strategies
Sue Ramthun, a Hart Health lobbyist and AAHPM’s dayto- day contact at the firm, further explains: “Physician outreach to offices helps lawmakers better understand palliative care and the need to ensure an adequate work force for the future. They rely on constituents and the Academy’s advocacy efforts to provide them with the strongest arguments, data, and patient and provider narratives. This personal contact is critical as we work together with the Academy and Senator Wyden toward the introduction of PCHETA. Many members of Congress would not expend the staff time to look more closely at the bill if they had not heard from someone in their district/ state. As they say, all politics are local, and hearing from people back home helps elevate the issue. There are many competing interests, and you need to tell your story, not leave it to someone else.”
Participants reported mostly positive feedback from their visits, although Congressional offices were largely consumed with the nation’s current economic crisis. Hart points out, “Debt Commission activities have made it more difficult for members of Congress to embrace new programs or support additional federal funding. This makes it imperative that members hear from their constituents what is important and necessary to achieve quality health care, especially for those with serious or life-threatening illness. If they do not hear from you, they assume there is no problem.”
The Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or Super Committee, is charged with developing a deficit-reduction plan that reduces the nation’s spending by at least $1.2 trillion over a 10-year period. AAHPM joined its colleagues in the National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care in sending a letter to members serving on the Committee, suggesting they include in their recommendations policies to expand access to palliative care and hospice for all Americans. AAHPM members left a copy of the letter with congressional offices they visited during the fly-in, as it explains how these valuable services deliver both higher quality and lower cost.
The need for constituent-based advocacy continues even after Academy members return home from Washington. “To be an effective advocate, it is not about who you know, but who knows you or your organization,” says Hart. “Your time in Washington and communicating with your representative and senators at home builds individual relationships as well as elevates the visibility of the Academy.”
Academy members can access resources for effective advocacy on the AAHPM website, including a grassroots communication training audio recording and slides. Find your lawmakers, track their votes, and contact them via e-mail using AAHPM’s Legislative Action Center. Click “Take Action” on aahpm.org.