June 6, 2016

By Mike Amery, Esq., Senior Legislative Counsel, Federal Affairs

Larson's Legacy

Rod Larson retired last week. For the last 16 years, Rod has served the American Academy of Neurology and its 30,000 members as the Chief Health Policy Officer.

For me, he was the person who hired me in 2000 and gave me a chance to open up the DC office for the AAN in 2005―what an opportunity.

Rod Larson leaves a long legacy for the AAN. When he started, the AAN advocacy department consisted of just a few staff members, a Legislative Affairs Committee that met in DC a few times per year, an underutilized contract with a lobbying firm in DC, and a public policy fellowship program that placed a neurologist in a congressional office as a legislative fellow each year. So a modest foundation existed, but there was very little in the way of a coordinated and sustained effort to ensure that the voice of neurology was heard in the halls of Congress.

We started to increase the AAN's federal profile by having a few AAN members join patient advocacy groups such as the Epilepsy Foundation and the National MS Society during their lobby days in Washington. We quickly learned we could have an even bigger impact by sending a large group of AAN neurologists together at the same time. The Legislative Affairs Committee committed to small events on Capitol Hill in 2001 and 2002, which eventually led to the first Neurology on the Hill in 2003 with 34 AAN members advocating for neurology.

We also realized around the same time that training and leadership development were key ingredients to success and Rod was instrumental in the creation of the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum in 2003.

Increasing AAN's presence on Capitol Hill was also key and Rod oversaw the opening of the Academy's DC office in 2005, the creation of our political action committee BrainPAC in 2007, and the expansion of the DC office to three staff in 2011.

What a difference all of this has made. Nearly 800 AAN members have participated in Neurology on the Hill, the Palatucci program has seen more than 400 graduates, and BrainPAC has raised and spent over $2,000,000 over the years.

The results are there, too, with examples such as the creation of Epilepsy Centers of Excellence at the VA, elimination of the SGR formula, and an understanding across the House and Senate of the need to increase payment for evaluation and management for cognitive physicians, not just primary care. There is no doubt that the influence and profile of the American Academy of Neurology in Washington has never been greater.

This dramatic change wasn't just in AAN advocacy. The Center for Health Policy is much more, including AAN guidelines, medical economics, quality improvement, and now the Axon Registry, all directed by Rod Larson.

All of us in the AAN Center for Health Policy salute Rod for a job well done and offer our appreciation for his direction and leadership for the last 16 years!   

AAN “Lobbyist for a Day” Goes to Washington 

Kenneth J. Gaines, MD, FAAN of Nashville, TN, was the latest AAN member to join Derek Brandt and me in the DC office for our AAN “Lobbyist for a Day” program.

Dr. Gaines has a great background in telemedicine for stroke, which conveniently happens to be a top issue right now for the AAN with our efforts to pass the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act. Dr. Gaines recently conducted a demonstration project funded through a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovations (CMMI) grant that aims to redesign stroke care delivery through a one year bundled payment starting upon the onset of an acute stroke. His project has produced improved outcomes and lowered costs of care in large part due to the use of a telemedicine-enabled home care delivery of post stroke care in an integrated practice unit design.

Dr. Gaines shared his results with several members of Congress, including two key members of the important House Energy & Commerce Committee, ranking member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Health Subcommittee Vice-Chair Brett Guthrie (R-KY). He also had lunch and spoke with nine members of the California congressional delegation and visited with numerous offices of the Tennessee Republican congressional delegation including those of Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and Reps. Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, and Phil Roe.

We thank Dr. Gaines for spending some time and for sharing his expertise with us and policy makers on Capitol Hill. 

Palatucci Grad Advocates for MS Patients on the News

Thanks to Nilay Shah, MD, a 2013 graduate of the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum, for sharing this clip from an Albany, NY, television news program.

Shah attended the state lobbying day for the National MS Society in New York and talked about “fail first” (step-therapy) policies by insurers that require patients to fail lower cost medications before they will cover higher cost drugs, regardless of what a physician recommends.

Shah argued for a compromise where step therapy is used to try less expensive drugs first, but a standard written protocol be in place to document failure, so a patient can get the drugs they need as quickly as possible.

Media training is a big part of the Palatucci Forum and Dr. Shah put his skills to good use on behalf of MS patients.

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