Advocating For Patient Health at the 2015 ACC Legislative Conference

Nov 18, 2015 | Hakeem Ayinde, MB ChB, MS

The month of October was huge for health care advocacy as over 400 ACC members representing all 50 states and DC gathered for the 2015 ACC Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. A record 60 FITs were present at the meeting. I attended the conference as a cardiovascular fellow (and delegate) from the University of Iowa.

The conference was very instructive and it made me understand the important role the cardiovascular team plays in shaping policies that affect the health of our patients.

The conference opened with the ACCPAC Reception and dinner, which featured Pulitzer prize-winning columnist and psychiatrist, Charles Krauthammer, MD. He was very informative and humorous as he gave us his perspective on current politics in Washington. ACC members also had the opportunity to learn more about the ACCPAC and why it was important that we all support it.

The next day was full of didactic sessions as we were trained on our four major talking points: the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which replaces the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) ; the effective use of electronic health records; additional funding for medical research and review of therapies by the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and the expansion of access to cardiac rehabilitation.

Matthew Press, MD, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, discussed the alternative payment models in MACRA, highlighting the shift from fee-for-service to value-based payments. Bruce Siegel, MD, CEO of America's Essential Hospitals, detailed practical problems hospitals and physician groups face today and how these can be addressed as we transition to MACRA. He called for new hospital and physician evaluation methods that would adjust for socio-economic indices, since these factors play a significant role in patient outcomes. He told an amazing story of an inner city hospital that collaborated with locals to set up a farmers' market on site, thereby helping patients improve access to healthy foods.

I would say the highlight of the day was hearing from Kim Ross, a witty political consultant, who gave a speech on the art of lobbying. He made it clear that we couldn't push policy if we do not understand how politics worked. He then characterized politicians into three groups: the pragmatist, the ambivalent and the ill-reputed. His witty comments and sense of humor enlivened the audience all afternoon.

The second day ended with state delegates strategizing for our upcoming Capitol Hill visit, followed by an ACCPAC reception for FITs, members of the cardiovascular care team, Early Career professionals and administrators.

ACC members had an early breakfast on the third day at the Cannon House Office Building. During the breakfast, ACC President Kim Allan Williams, Sr., MD, FACC, presented the 2015 President's Awards for Distinguished Public Service to House Minority Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Senior Advisor Wendell Primus received the award on her behalf. The outgoing Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), had received his award earlier in the month. Both Pelosi and Boehner were honored for their role in passing MACRA, which was signed into law on April 16, 2015.

Meetings with congressional offices began soon afterwards. The Iowa delegation met with Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) and the legislative assistants of Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and Steve King (R-IA). We had very insightful discussions focused about health care and cardiology, and they appreciated our experience and expertise on these topics.

The legislators were very empathetic and eager to support the ACC objectives. I met people who cared for patients as much as any doctor did. It was during our discussions that I truly understood why I was on Capitol Hill that day: to work together with the legislators for the benefit of my patients.

The ACC Legislative Conference was an eye-opening experience in advocacy for me. It made me understand how health care services are reimbursed, and more importantly, it gave me the opportunity to advocate for the health of millions of patients nationwide. I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I hope to be back next year.

Learn more about the 2015 Legislative Conference on the ACC in Touch Blog and on the FITs on the Go Youtube Page.

This article was authored by Hakeem Ayinde, MB ChB, MS, a fellow in training (FIT) at the University of Iowa.