Key ACS issues, including health care reform, dominate 2017 Advocacy Summit

Summit attendees

More than 300 surgeons and residents participated in the Advocacy Summit at the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Leadership & Advocacy Summit 2017, May 6−9, in Washington, DC. Participants in the Advocacy Summit came to Washington to gain an inside-the-beltway view of the political and legislative climate, develop their advocacy skills, and meet with lawmakers and congressional staff to educate them about key ACS legislative priorities that affect surgeons and surgical patients. The summit drew surgeons at all phases of their surgical careers, with a record 72 resident participants attending with the help of scholarships.

The issues

Advocacy Summit participants had a total of more than 200 meetings on Capitol Hill. During these meetings, they discussed  top issues for surgeons and their patients, including ensuring an adequate surgical workforce in underserved areas; advancing childhood cancer research and surveillance and providing resources for pediatric cancer survivors; allocating funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care coverage to uninsured children from low-income families; improving liability protections for trauma care providers; and providing greater flexibility for providers during implementation of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

Lawmakers Discuss Health Care Reform at Advocacy Summit

Senator Cassidy

Senator Cassidy

“Whatever our party, we are first physicians. Our obligation is to the field of medicine, to our country and to our patients. [Health care reform] is not a Democratic issue; it’s not a Republican issue. It’s a patient issue. If we could find a middle ground on something that fulfills President Trump’s pledges (end mandates, care for those with preexisting conditions, continue care under the Affordable Care Act, lower premium costs), then we will have done our job [with respect] to our profession, to our country, and to our patients.”

—Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA)

Senator Blunt

Senator Blunt

“It’s an exciting time, and it’s particularly exciting, I’m sure, if you’re in health care every day. It’s exciting for every American that has to care about their health care. Somebody told me once that if everybody in your family is well, you’ve got lots of problems. If somebody in your family is sick, you’ve got one problem. (Surgeons) see that over and over again.”

—Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)

Health care reform was front and center at the summit. Just days before surgeons arrived in the capital, the U.S. House of Representatives had passed the American Health Care Act by a vote of 217–213. Summit attendees were educated about the College’s concerns with the legislation and advised that the Senate bill likely would be dramatically different. The College continues to work to ensure that ACS health care reform principles—patient safety and quality, patient access to surgical care, reduction of health care costs, and medical liability reform—are included in a final bill.* The briefs presented at the summit on all key issues discussed, including health care reform, are available on the ACS Professional Association (ACSPA) website.

The summit included a panel discussion, Perspectives on 2017 Health Care Reform, which highlighted the stark contrast in viewpoints on Obamacare and the American Health Care Act. The final consensus of the panel was that the House bill would be drastically altered before a final law was realized.

A panel of senior staff from the ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy provided an update on policy and legislative activities related to Medicare physician payment, with an emphasis on MIPS, Advanced Alternative Payment Models, and global surgical code reporting. During meetings with lawmakers, surgeon participants called upon members of Congress to enact legislation that would provide the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with flexibility in implementing MIPS.

View from national journalists

The summit kicked off with a keynote address by Chuck Todd, NBC News political director, moderator and managing editor of Meet the Press, and host of MTP Daily on MSNBC. Interspersing his comments with humor and irony, Mr. Todd said, “I feel like you doctors are a fish out of water in DC because you guys are too fact-based. Politics these days—facts and beliefs, they don’t exactly mesh very well.”

Mr. Todd predicts that the final health care reform legislation will be “some form of ugly status quo—Obamacare nibbled around the edges.” He said that in the first 100 days of the Trump Administration, “Washington has been a lot of noise but not a lot of action.” He added that Washington is going to be stuck for a while because President Trump began his administration with Obamacare repeal. “Beginning with health care, it’s polarizing, and Democrats now can’t work with Trump. It’s going to be a conundrum for Trump for some time.”

A political luncheon hosted by the ACSPA political action committee (ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC) featured Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio and a Fox News contributor. Ms. Liasson’s comments centered on President Trump as well, asking, “Is his bark worse than his bite? We don’t know.” She said, “One of my jobs as a journalist is to try to separate out the truly consequential from the merely outrageous. There are many things that he says that are odd or eccentric that really don’t matter, but there are other things that are really important.”

Surgeon advocacy works

Demonstrating the power of surgeons’ advocacy efforts, summit participants played an essential role in advancing the introduction of the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act. The legislation, introduced June 14, would direct HHS to conduct a study of general surgery shortage areas. Furthermore, it would give the HHS Secretary the authority to issue a formal general surgery shortage area designation based on the study’s results.

Thomas K. Varghese, Jr., MD, MS, FACS (#TomVargheseJr @ACSLAS17), a thoracic surgeon from Salt Lake City, UT, and Medical Director of the ACS Strong for Surgery program, captured the mandate for surgeons to be involved in advocacy in a linked statement that he tweeted from the summit: “For far too long surgeons have confined themselves to their own environment, and ceded the conversations to others. It’s our comfort zone—we take care of patients, and we do it well. However, there are many issues at play now that directly impact our ability to care for patients,” the statement read. “We need to get engaged at all levels of leadership and advocacy (hospital, state, national). We need to learn the necessary skills to be effective. We can’t afford to sit idly by any longer. And we can never forget to keep our patients at the center of all our conversations.”

Mr. Todd (left) and Ms. Liasson (right)

Mr. Todd (left) and Ms. Liasson (right)

Key ways to make a difference

ACS members can actively influence key surgical issues throughout the year, not only during the Advocacy Summit. Here’s how:

  • Stay current on ACS legislative priorities by reading ACS NewsScope weekly, and checking the ACS Advocacy web page and
  • Become familiar with key state legislative issues affecting surgeons and surgical patients
  • Build relationships with your lawmakers and their local staff by arranging in-district meetings, attending town halls, or inviting them to visit your surgical practice; details for setting up an in-district meeting are available on the ACS website
  • Respond to ACS calls to action by contacting your lawmakers through SurgeonsVoice at
  • Mark your calendar to participate in the 2018 Leadership & Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC, May 19–22, as well as your local ACS chapter’s state lobby day
  • Learn about the ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC at

* The full ACS 2017 Statement on Health Care Reform was published in the May issue of the Bulletin.

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