A Weekend That Changed Their Lives

JANUARY 26, 2014

By Mike Amery, Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs 

Strengthening the Ranks of Neurology Advocates
Last week, I attended the 13th annual Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum, one of the AAN’s award-winning training programs. This year’s Forum took place on Amelia Island, FL, where 27 neurologists took part in an intensive media and advocacy training program.  

Year after year, we find the best and brightest AAN advocates at the Palatucci Forum. This year’s class was no different with everyone eager to learn, plan, and change the world. Each participant left with a year-long action plan on an issue important to them and their community. “[The Forum] is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I know it’s going to bring me life-long inspiration. I feel like I’ve been deconstructed and now have the tools to go back and rebuild a newer, better model of myself,” said Veronica Santini of Palo Alto, California.

A key part of the Forum is the return of 12 previous graduates who serve as advisors and faculty for the new advocates. Each year, one is chosen as the “Advocate of the Year.” This year’s winner was 2008 graduate Javier Cardenas, MD, of Phoenix, AZ who has been a leader on sports concussion.

If you have never been to the Palatucci Forum, learn more about it online and consider applying for the 2016 program when the application cycle opens later this year. 

Thoughts on the New Congress
The incoming Congress represents new opportunities to advance the cause of neurology for physicians and patients and the AAN plans to take full advantage. On March 3, 170 American Academy of Neurology members from all over the country will come to DC to advocate for neurology priorities. Our Neurology on the Hill advocates will continue working with our key supporters in Congress and begin identify new allies

With new Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate and President Obama in the White House for another two years, I hear a great deal of skepticism on the potential for advancing any serious health related initiatives in the 114th Congress.

But I’m not so sure. I think there is a chance that things could go better than anyone anticipates.

The biggest indication I see is a higher degree of cooperation between the parties on the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee, which holds a great deal of jurisdiction over US health care issues, including the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that continuously threatens physicians with significant cuts in Medicare reimbursement.

The first hearing out of the chute in the E&C Health Subcommittee was titled, “A Permanent Solution to the SGR: The Time is Now.” I attended the hearing along with about 100 other health care lobbyists and was pretty sure I heard some audible sighs of relief when it became clear that both Republicans and Democrats were going to stick to the SGR agreement negotiated in early 2014.

We were all concerned that congressional changes might have led to a complete do over, but this hearing focused on the need for this action and the potential offsets for the roughly $140 billion costs of an SGR repeal. There are significant differences on the question of offsets, and the two parties aren't close to a deal, but at least a new Congress hasn't meant losing the progress already made toward permanently fixing the SGR.  

The E&C committee leadership under Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) and a leading Democrat Diana DeGette (D-CO) have also been collaborating for months on developing legislation to advance cures for many chronic diseases, including those with a neurological basis. A discussion draft of the “21st Century Cures” bill is expected soon.

Of course, cooperation in the House still requires cooperation in the Senate, where legislation both good and bad goes to die. But even in the Senate there seems to be a thawing of the ice that created such a log jam for the past few years on issues like an SGR repeal.  

What Is the Value of a Neurologist?
One of the great Palatucci graduates came from the 2005 class. Pushpa Narayanaswami, MD, FAAN, was in Nebraska struggling to help a patient who did not have access to MS medications and couldn't qualify for Medicaid. She saw the ad for the Palatucci Forum in AANnews® and applied with the goal to “fix Medicaid.” 

She didn't succeed in that first goal but the Palatucci Forum provided an introduction to all of the opportunities AAN members have to really make a difference. Now practicing in Boston, Narayanaswami has served on several committees and task forces, including the AAN’s Government Relations Committee, Practice Committee, and has authored AAN guidelines.

All the while, she has cared for her patients.

The Journal of Neurology recently published a touching essay by Narayanaswami that goes straight to the heart of what it means to really care for patients. I hope you will read "What Is the Value of a Neurologist." I promise you won’t be disappointed.


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