June 2017: We Must All Hang Together
Over the last few years, the AAN has strengthened our advocacy efforts, expanded our Government Relations Committee, and leveraged our BrainPAC. Now more than ever, we need to work together for the betterment of our patients and our profession. We are proud of our efforts to remain evidence-based, consensus-driven, and guided by our mission and core values as we articulate well-developed advocacy positions. The Academy recently published Health Care Delivery Principles, a list of criteria by which we will gauge any proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. These principles were published in the May AANnews and you can find them online. Considerable effort by leadership and staff went into preparing this document, which focuses specifically on the needs of neurologists and our patients.
As Dr. Cascino mentioned in his final column in this space, the political views of our members run across the spectrum. We all have our personal political philosophies and our heterogeneity as an organization makes us stronger. But it is not for the Academy to assign praise or blame to any particular political party. While our members and staff who are deeply involved in advocating for neurology on Capitol Hill may be knowledgeable of the tug-of-war that is involved in moving legislation through Congress, the Academy itself must keep focused on furthering the art and science of neurology, no matter who is in power and whatever our personal affiliations. When we advocate as an organization, we need to do our best to speak in one voice for what is best for our patients and profession.
At the time of this writing, the House of Representatives has passed a revised version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which still fails to meet several of our principles for health care. The bill has moved to the Senate, where Republicans have indicated they will work on their own version. Consequently, we will remain focused in applying our principles to any proposals, today and tomorrow. Future breakthroughs for curing, preventing, and treating neurological disorders require us to speak loudly for increased funding of NIH research. As you can see in this month's Capitol Hill Report, we were successful in our fight to preserve the gains we have made for federal funding of neurologic research in Congress's final budget for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year. Our members and staff worked very hard last year to increase the budgets for the NIH and BRAIN Initiative. The 21st Century Cures Act was a monumental step forward, had strong bipartisan support, and needs the proper appropriations to be successful. And we will continue to make the case that the health of our citizens and the economic future of our country are in peril as long as 50+ million Americans are living with chronic and costly neurologic disease.
Cuts in research funding are not just suffered by our neuroscientists, they damage our ability to discover treatments and cures our practicing neurologists can prescribe to their patients. As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Regulatory hassle that provides no value remains an issue that we need to convince Congress to address. Burdensome regulations and job burnout do not impact just practicing neurologists-they can dissuade medical students from entering our specialty, which affects our academic programs across the country at the very time we need to increase our work force.
We must turn up the heat on Congress, each and every one of us. Because what happens to one area of neurology can affect us all. So, when you get an Action Alert email in your inbox, this is when you must hang together with your colleagues. If the topic is health care reform, we need the support of our neuroscience and academic community. Likewise, when it regards funding for research, we need to have every practicing neurologist involved. It takes just seconds to open these alerts, click a button or two, and send your representative or senator a message of support for neurology. As these emails build up in their inbox, they will begin to feel the heat. Believe me, this is not an insignificant action. These are the voices of their constituents, aka “voters.” Your voice, and your vote, count. It appears the midterm elections will be hotly contested, and you can make a difference.
If you have a little more time to give, consider applying to attend Neurology on the Hill, which broke attendance records last winter with 216 of your colleagues advocating on Capitol Hill. I have been to DC numerous times and I know how important it is to educate lawmakers face-to-face about the issues affecting us, especially when we speak as constituents in their voting district. We really can enlighten and change minds in these discussions. It is empowering to be a citizen lobbyist. It is even more effective if we bring our patients with us. We are also working across organizations and bringing patient advocacy groups together to join forces as we did with the American Stroke Association/American Heart Association in 2016. We need to bring groups together to unify our positions and speak loudly in larger numbers. I hope you will consider applying for the 2018 event when applications open. We welcome new participants, experienced in advocacy or not, especially from underrepresented parts of the country. You might have a story to tell that can turn a skeptic into a believer. Yes, it can happen, even in Washington!
When Congress is on recess in August, you can experience this power by attending town halls, visiting your lawmakers' offices, or even inviting them to your clinic or laboratory. Again, this grassroots education can have a very strong impact when powered by your passion for neurology. Our advocacy efforts extend throughout the year and do not just involve our federal government, but also are aimed at state legislators. Contact our terrific advocacy staff to learn more about these events.
The AAN has worked hard to develop our advocacy expertise. I want to thank the 29 members who participated in the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum last month. After 15 forums, we have graduated 439 members through this intensive training. The graduates will tell you the experience has changed their lives, and they have gone on to change the lives of patients and colleagues in their communities. We call upon these PALF graduates to use their talents and help the AAN move forward.
Finally, we need to thank the many members who have generously supported our BrainPAC. We have gained an entry to some very influential Congressional members that would never have been possible in our pre-PAC days. I witnessed this myself at the 2017 Congressional Open House, when I saw so many of our elected officials recognizing and calling across the hall to our AAN staff on a first name basis. They know our name, who we are, and what we stand for. This kind of relationship building can go a long way to get our advocacy positions heard and acted upon.
So, you can see, advocacy is at the heart of moving neurology forward, whether it is patient care, research, or improving our work lives. Even if you don't aspire to lead the Academy, we need you to be a leader in advocating for neurology.
We must all hang together.