Grassroots advocacy demonstrated at Advocacy Summit

Meeting with lawmakers and demonstrating strength in numbers is an effective way to raise awareness about important advocacy priorities in Washington, DC, and across the country. Congressional advocacy days offer like-minded individuals the opportunity to come together and educate members of Congress about issues affecting their districts, states, and constituents. The greater the number of participants, the stronger the organization’s impact will be on decision makers. Sending numerous members to Capitol Hill during a scheduled advocacy day provides a unique opportunity to ensure a maximum number of legislators hear the united voice of one group, and, in some cases, change the debate and course of a topic.

ACS Advocacy Summit and the importance of surgeon involvement

Maryland delegation outside the U.S. Capitol

Maryland delegation outside the U.S. Capitol

Recognizing the vital role that surgeon-advocates play within the dynamic health care environment, in 2012 the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) established the Advocacy Summit. Intended to bring Fellows and surgery trainees together to develop their advocacy skills, learn about health policy priorities, and participate in meetings with members of Congress and their staffs, the Summit offers the opportunity for all ACS members to advocate on behalf of surgical care.

“I have been attending the Advocacy Summit since its inception in 2012, and it is undoubtedly a valuable experience that allows you to network with your colleagues and build important relationships with lawmakers,” said Ross Goldberg, MD, FACS, Chair, ACS Health Policy Advisory Council. “Staff remember us, they expect our visit, and they are ready to listen when we share our concerns.”

Elected officials care about issues that are important to their constituents, particularly concerns related to the complexities surrounding health care. In fact, many of them will turn down opportunities to sign on to legislative efforts until hearing from their constituents. When constituents are at odds on a topic, elected officials tend to see the issue through the lens of whichever group reaches out to them. Advocacy is integral to educating and influencing the perspective of those decision makers. When several hundred surgeons provide input about an issue, members of Congress and their staff take notice.

Addressing complex policy issues

While surgeons are the experts on surgical issues, ACS DAHP staff works to ensure surgeon-advocates are prepared to communicate their views on an issue in a compelling way, ensuring that lawmakers and their advisors see surgeons and the College as key partners working to help develop solutions. Members of Congress take notice of that kind of leadership.

Becoming educated about health care policy priorities, particularly communicating the College’s position about a particular issue, is a critical component of becoming an effective advocate. The Summit offers educational sessions and panel discussions to help participants continue to advocate to improve surgical patient care, engage decision makers, and more. This year’s panels featured several experts on important topics, including Medicare physician reimbursement, surgical quality measures, surprise out-of-network medical billing, prior authorization, and firearm injury and prevention research. Learn more about topics that participants addressed in Capitol Hill visits on the ACS website.

Fellows from PA with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) (center)

Fellows from PA with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) (center)

 

Increased participation

Over the last eight years, surgeon-advocate participation has grown. The inaugural Advocacy Summit welcomed 170 participants representing 40 states, whereas more than 350 Fellows, residents, and medical students from 47 states participated this year.

Increased participation helps the ACS expand its reach on Capitol Hill by educating more lawmakers about the organization’s advocacy activities. Since the Advocacy Summit began, attendees have met with 94 percent of U.S. Senate offices and nearly 40 percent of U.S. House offices—a 22 percent increase over time.

Leveraging advocacy via social media

Social media provides an effective tool that, when used properly, can increase communication among Fellows and raise awareness about important heath policy issues. For this reason, 2019 Advocacy Summit attendees were encouraged to engage their peers, members of Congress, and other thought leaders using various hashtags and trending health care-related terminology. Throughout the course of the meeting, Twitter activity from the @SurgeonsVoice account received nearly 25,000 impressions (that is, total number of times a tweet is viewed), or 1,600 impressions per day. The top tweet, pertaining to reducing prior authorization burdens on surgeons and surgical practices, received more than 5,400 impressions. To view additional social media activity, including ACS member and elected officials engagement, visit @SurgeonsVoice and #ACSLAS19 via Twitter.

Social media presence at Advocacy Summit

Social media presence at Advocacy Summit

 

Advocacy Summit impact

A multitude of meetings, coupled with strategic social media outreach, produces results. At press time, ACS DAHP staff was continuing to process the impact of the 2019 Leadership & Advocacy Summit, but data from the 2018 Leadership & Advocacy Summit demonstrates the value of hosting an annual advocacy day. Below is a summary of additional cosponsors who supported important ACS legislation promoted at the 2018 Leadership & Advocacy Summit.

Mission Zero Act

This legislation would create a grant program to assist civilian trauma centers in partnering with military trauma professionals to establish a pathway to provide patients with the highest quality trauma care in times of peace and times of conflict. As a result of the summit, the bill gained three new Senate cosponsors. Ultimately, the Mission Zero Act was included in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act (PAHPAI).

Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act

This legislation would remove barriers and ease liability concerns that often prevent health care providers from volunteering their services during a federally declared disaster. The “Good Sam” bill attained three new Senate cosponsors and was also included in the PAHPAI legislation.

PAHPAI

PAHPAI, which aims to improve the nation’s ability to respond to public health and medical emergencies, was introduced following the 2018 Leadership & Advocacy Summit and comprises the key provisions that the ACS promoted. The Senate version of the legislation also contains these policies and received full congressional approval in June 2019.

Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act

This legislation would correct an oversight in current law that requires Medicare beneficiaries to make a copayment when a colorectal cancer screening colonoscopy also involves a polyp removal. The summit led to the bill gaining eight new House cosponsors and seven Senate cosponsors.

Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act

This legislation would direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a study to define general surgery workforce shortage areas and collect data on the adequacy of access to surgical services. The bill gained seven House and two Senate cosponsors.

Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act

This legislation focuses on training the health care professional workforce in palliative care. The Advocacy Summit yielded 13 House and four Senate cosponsors.

Health Care Safety Net Enhancement Act

This legislation would provide Public Health Service Act liability protections for physicians who provide care mandated under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, also known as EMTALA. Last year’s summit resulted in this bill gaining one new House cosponsor.

Additional key cosponsors raise the profile of a bill before the committees in which it rests, encouraging action and further congressional support. Advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint, and the addition of cosponsors in any capacity—particularly enough to move a bill through one chamber—is a significant victory. To contact your member of Congress in support of ACS health policy priorities, visit SurgeonsVoice and take action today.

Fellows from Nebraska with Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) (second from left)

Fellows from Nebraska with Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) (second from left)

 

Continued engagement opportunities

The ACS encourages and supports the further development of relationships established at the Advocacy Summit. In 2018, the ACS DAHP launched new programs designed to encourage continued engagement in the College’s advocacy activities. The following programs are available to all ACS members.

Advocate at Home

Senators and representatives return home to their states and districts during congressional work periods. In-district meetings are a great opportunity to begin a relationship or build on the foundations formed at the Advocacy Summit.

Participants are invited to call upon ACS DAHP staff to help schedule, prepare for, and facilitate an in-district meeting or event.

Advocate of the Year

The DAHP’s Advocate of the Year program tracks how surgeon advocates use SurgeonsVoice online. Top advocates establish and maintain relationships with legislators, helping to advance health policy priorities. The Advocate of the Year is recognized annually at Clinical Congress, featured in the Bulletin, and invited to participate in other advocacy-related activities.

To nominate a candidate worthy of consideration based on existing eligibility criteria, contact Katie Oehmen at koehmen@facs.org.

Conclusion

Surgeon involvement in the development of health care policy and regulations related to patient care is essential to effect change. For surgery to continue to flourish, policymakers need to hear from their constituents regarding the value of accessible, affordable, quality surgical care across the U.S. ACS members and colleagues are encouraged to attend the ninth annual Leadership & Advocacy Summit, March 28–31, 2020, at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel.

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