Big Week for AAN on the Hill—and Beyond

July 7, 2014

by Mike Amery, Esq., AAN Legislative Counsel

AAN Spokesman Testifies on Capitol Hill
Last week was exciting for the AAN DC staff because we had the opportunity to spend time on the Hill with Ben Utecht. Utecht had a six-year NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals, including a 2007 Super Bowl championship. His playing career ended in 2009 with his fifth documented concussion. He has become the new national spokesman for the Academy and the American Brain Foundation and is helping raise awareness of sports concussion and the need to support research into cures for brain diseases.

In May, Utecht attended the first-ever White House Summit on Youth Concussion along with AAN concussion experts Jeff Kutcher, MD, and Chris Giza, MD. This was followed by an invitation to testify before the US Senate Special Committee on Aging, which brought him back to DC from his home in Minnesota.

Utecht did a great job talking about his experience as a professional athlete on the biggest of stages, but also described the concussions he suffered, which resulted in memory loss and even behavior changes. “It was a thrill to meet many of the senators who serve on the committee,” said Utecht. “It is so important that anyone suffering from a concussion have access to expert neurologists. I was glad I got the opportunity to share my experience.” Take a look at the hearing replay or download Utecht’s written testimony.

Prior to his appearance before the committee, I had Utecht all over the Hill meeting with his members of Congress from Minnesota. We had a conversation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) just off the Senate floor. At a fundraising dinner attended by about 20 with Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN), the best part was Rep. Paulsen asking Utecht to pass around his Super Bowl ring.

As an AAN and American Brain Foundation spokesman, we are hoping that Utecht joins us frequently in DC. He is a great asset in spreading our message about the need for access to neurologists for people with concussions as well as all neurologic conditions.

Lobbying in the West
I spent last weekend in Portland, OR, at a fundraising event for Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR). The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over most health care policy, making it very important to the federal goals of the AAN. Wyden became chair earlier this year when former chair Max Baucus (D-MT) resigned to become ambassador to China. 

I was thankful to be joined by Portland resident Mark Yerby, MD, FAAN, who chaired the AAN’s former Legislative Affairs Committee (which evolved into the current Government Relations Committee). Yerby deserves a lot of the credit for the creation of the AAN’s federal political action committee, BrainPAC, which occurred just as his term as chair expired in 2007.

Our time was well spent as the relaxed, away-from-the-beltway atmosphere gave us great opportunities to discuss the access to care needs of patients with complex chronic diseases with Sen. Wyden and several of his top staffers. Building these relationships is a long process, but these types of conversations with people who truly are the decision-makers on federal health care policy will ensure that the interests of neurology are present when those decisions are being made.

Neurology/Psychiatry Medicaid Bump Letter
One of the AAN’s top priorities in the 113th Congress has been to ensure that neurology and psychiatry are included in any effort to extend the Medicaid bump which pays primary care and all internal medicine subspecialties Medicare rates for their Medicaid patients. This provision in the Affordable Care Act expires at the end of this year.

Last week, we were joined by the American Psychiatric Association and 32 other patient and provider groups in sending a letter (link to letter) to key members of Congress that again describes how unfair it is to pick winners and losers based on specialty designation rather than on care being provided to patients.

With the expiration of the bump nearing, we anticipate a big push from the primary care providers to get Congress to act even though the cost, according to the president’s budget, is $5 billion for a one-year extension. We are making sure that members of Congress and the key staffers know how important it is for patients and families in the neurology and mental health communities. Although it is unlikely to pass, legislation has been introduced to add neurology in bill HR 1838, which has 48 cosponsors in the House, and S. 775, which has five cosponsors in the Senate. This indicates that we have significant support on the issue.

Odds and Ends 
by Tim Miller, Sr. Program Manager, Communications and State Advocacy

  • The AAN has updated the functionality, legal resources, and look for its Sports Concussion Quick Check App for smartphones and other mobile devices. The app will automatically update if you have selected “auto-update.” Be sure you have the latest version or download today.  
  • The Academy recently released a new legislative position statement on telemedicine, which will be used to comment on telemedicine legislation at both the state and federal level. With telemedicine rapidly emerging as a form of patient care, the AAN believes it is important that policymakers consider access issues, reimbursement, liability issues, and licensing across state borders when discussing telemedicine policy. 


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