Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lobbying on Capitol Hill for Physician Assistant Healthcare Issues

Supreme Court building
Last week was healthcare week in Washington DC.

Capitol Hill was besieged by healthcare professionals and protestors as the Supreme Court debated the constitutionality of healthcare reform.

I was in DC as a student member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) to participate in the Capitol Connection and lobby my senators and representatives.  After attending some educational sessions on the do's and don'ts of speaking with your congressional representative, some role playing, pep talks, and a reception, we all hiked over to the "Hill."
Cat ("Pud") on a leash in front of the Capitol

The steps of the Supreme Court were like a scene out of a movie--Mr. and Mrs. Smith go to Washington.  Police lined up on the steps and protestors from both sides of the healthcare reform issue paraded in front of them.  Then there were the MDs, PAs, RNs and others there to lobby their congressional representatives on healthcare issues near and dear to their professions.

Personal nightmare

I admit to walking briskly by the Supreme Court step protestors not wishing to be caught in the fray of an unknown protest when I was unclear about their position.  Personal nightmare = being photographed on CNN "protesting" in front of the Supreme Court for a view that is not my own.   So I proceeded efficiently over to the Senate office buildings for my first morning appointment with Senator Landrieu's office.
Calder mobile "Mountains and Clouds" in atrium of the Hart Senate Building

PAs and PA students speak out to their legislators

Physician assistants and Physician assistant students lobbied Senators and representatives on these four issues:

  1. Medicare Hospice Care Access Act (Senate bill 891/ HR 3831) Providing for reimbursement for PAs who provide hospice care.   The ASK:  Improve patient access and continuity of care by including physician assistants in hospice care.
  2. Title VII Health Professions Program  Funding for primary care practitioner education - we need more physician assistant educational program funding.  The ASK:  Support for $12 million in funding for PA educational programs in fiscal year 2013.
  3. Federal Workers' Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act (HR 2465) Allowing PAs to treat federal employees under workman's compensation.   The ASK:  Improve federal employees access to affordable medical care by including physician assistants as providers.
  4. Health IT Modernization for Underserved Communities Act of 2011 (HR 2729)  We need to include physician assistants in the list of eligible health professionals who receive the EHR (electronic health record) incentive payment.  This will encourage more facilities to meet the federal mandate for EHR use by 2015 with more physician assistants on board.    The ASK:  Include physician assistants in this federal incentive along with physicians, dentists and advanced practice nurses.

Take away message here:  Physician assistants need to be included.  

More grass roots advocacy needed

We need more physician assistants speaking up and establishing a professional presence and position to our legislators.   I was surprised that there were only some 240 attendees at the Capitol Connection and some states were not represented at all. This is when I inquired if we had any physician assistants from Louisiana there and when learning that we did not (I'm sure they were all at home working) I decided to visit my Louisiana senators, Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter and Representative Rodney Alexander.  I also visited New York Senator Gillibrand and Representative Brian Higgins (Congressman Higgins represents Western New York).

Physician assistants are too often left out of legislation because bill authors assumed that if it covered physicians it covered physician assistants.  And this is not so!
A beautiful day on Capitol Hill

Physician assistant students as advocates

Physician assistant students are in a unique position to become advocates for their newly chosen profession.  As students we often have more flexible use of our time and we have the fresh, in-your-face, enthusiastic spirit that the public and our legislators need to see and experience.  More physician assistant students need to step in and speak out.

Capitol Hill is full of fresh faced, young, legislative assistants who are making their names as interns and young policy professionals who inform and advise their bosses on the issues.  Let's let them see some of our fresh faced physician assistant students advocating for their profession.

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