A surgeon’s responsibility to protect his or her patients and practice extends beyond the operating room and should include taking an active role in legislative and regulatory policies that have a direct impact on surgeons and patients. Through the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP), the American College of Surgeons (ACS) develops and advocates for health care policies that are in the best interests of surgeons and their patients.
In April, after a decade of hard work by the College and many other health care organizations, Congress finally stabilized Medicare reimbursements by repealing the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula used to calculate Medicare physician payment. Although DAHP staff worked tirelessly to repeal this broken methodology, this achievement was due largely to our Fellows taking action and making their voices heard. This victory demonstrates that lawmakers want, and often need, to hear from you as experts on surgical care and practice and, most importantly, as constituents. When you capitalize on your position as a surgical expert and become a valuable resource to policymakers, you can effect real health policy change.
Convincing members of Congress to repeal the SGR was an important accomplishment, but many issues continue to affect surgeons’ ability to provide their patients with optimal care and therefore require our attention. Legislation pertaining to cancer, research, rural hospitals, and trauma is pending in Congress, and it is crucial that Fellows engage with their legislators and provide feedback. The DAHP has created several platforms to provide surgeons with the necessary tools to become effective surgeon advocates.
SurgeonsVoice is the American College of Surgeons Professional Association’s (ACSPA) nationwide, interactive advocacy program. This program, created by the DAHP, has been engineered to educate and motivate members of Congress and influence their decisions. It provides surgeons with tools to become effective advocates in every U.S. congressional district and to establish professional and personal relationships with decision makers, both on and off Capitol Hill, as well as at the state and regional level. While Fellows may seek assistance and coordinate efforts through the DAHP, SurgeonsVoice is designed to be a self-service tool kit, allowing Fellows to carry out advocacy activities anytime, anywhere in the nation, without setting foot in Washington, DC.
The College’s grassroots network is only as strong as its members. Working to expand the grassroots program allows surgeons to become constituents who their legislators know and trust to provide them with valuable, meaningful information regarding health care. To be considered an active member of the College’s grassroots network, Fellows should engage in the following GRASS action items:
- Get involved
- Reach out to peers
- Advance the College’s health policy agenda
- Support local events
- Serve as a trusted resource to staff and contacts
Schedule a meeting
When seeking to influence health care policy, nothing is more important than developing personal relationships with members of Congress. Likewise, to an elected official, nothing is more valuable than receiving input and support from their constituents. Members of Congress typically return to their districts on the weekends and when Congress is on recess or adjourned. These in-district work periods allow them to spend more time with their constituents and learn about the issues that affect them.
Using these opportunities to meet with policymakers and/or their staff is extremely valuable in advancing the overall surgical advocacy agenda and provides you with an opportunity develop relationships with legislators and their health policy advisors. You are encouraged to engage in these activities with other surgeons and surgical residents in your area. ACS staff will work with you to arrange meetings and ensure that members of Congress understand that you are advocating on the College’s behalf. If you have questions or concerns after reviewing the materials on SurgeonsVoice.org, contact Michael Carmody, Congressional Affairs Coordinator, DAHP, Washington, DC.
Use the SurgeonsVoice advocacy handbook on SurgeonsVoice.org to guide you in scheduling legislative meetings and to engage in successful advocacy efforts at the state level. The advocacy handbook is a comprehensive resource that provides an inside look at the ACS advocacy structure, the ACSPA’s political action committee (ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC), the structure of Congress and the complex legislative process, and the state legislatures. In addition, SurgeonsVoice comes with helpful issue briefs on relevant topics such as: cancer, research, rural hospitals, trauma, the surgical workforce, and other issues of importance.
SurgeonsVoice works hand-in-hand with the ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC to leverage the College’s legislative agenda at the federal level. SurgeonsPAC allows the ACSPA to increase its lobbying and advocacy efforts by contributing to federal campaigns.
What is a PAC?
PACs raise and spend money to elect candidates. PACs typically represent common interests and seek out financial contributions from members, employees, or other eligible classes through voluntary contributions. PACs are required to register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 10 days of establishment and to provide regular reports disclosing receipts (money raised) and disbursements (money contributed). With the 2016 elections looming, the following are five points every Fellow should know about PACs:
- PACs help to create a united voice at the national level to raise awareness about issues of importance to an organization.
- PACs help to educate policymakers on legislative challenges so that they can help fight for those issues of importance to members of their organizations.
- A PAC is only as strong as the individuals who support it; the more members that support a PAC, the more effective it can be in the legislative and political process on Capitol Hill.
- Building lasting relationships with members of Congress through a PAC helps representatives and senators understand the issues that matter most to a particular industry or group.
- Being proactive in the political process can be beneficial to an entire organization.
Established in 2002, the ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC is governed by an appointed Board of Directors, which seeks to support an advocacy agenda for surgeons and their patients across specialty lines.
In recent years, the ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC was ranked in the top 20 health professional PACs in Washington, DC.* Through an aggressive grassroots educational and political investment program, ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC and its members provide nonpartisan financial support to federal office holders who share surgery’s perspective on health care policy issues and are positioned to influence surgery’s legislative goals. The PAC is one of the most effective ways to promote and protect issues that can affect surgical patients and the profession.
ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC has strict criteria for contributing to candidates. It is very important to the ACSPA that the contributions are distributed to friends of the medical community and in compliance with FEC regulations.
Peer-to-peer outreach key to SurgeonsPAC’s success
SurgeonsPAC recently launched its first PAC Captain Program. More than 40 PAC Captains participated in the six week peer-to-peer campaign aimed at disseminating SurgeonsPAC’s message to a broader audience. The campaign resulted in increased awareness and support of the SurgeonsPAC. SurgeonsPAC Captain participants and winners will have their names displayed at the PAC booth during Clinical Congress and will remain key “champions” within the states working to increase the SurgeonsPAC’s membership base throughout the 2015–2016 election cycle. For more information about the SurgeonsPAC Captain Program, contact Katie Oehmen, ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC Associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, in an effort to increase visibility at the state level, SurgeonsPAC will be reaching out to Fellows across the country to begin facilitating more in-district SurgeonsPAC check deliveries. To learn more about delivering a SurgeonsPAC check at a local or state event, contact Katie Oehmen at email@example.com or Michael Carmody at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The Center for Responsive Politics. Opensecrets.org. PAC contributions to federal candidates. Available at: www.opensecrets.org/pacs/industry.php?txt=H01%26cycle=2014. Accessed August 17, 2015.