September 1, 2018
Every day, decisions are made in Washington, DC, and across the nation that have the potential to directly affect surgical practices and patients. Because surgeons believe their responsibility to patients extends beyond the operating room, advocacy and health policy remains a top priority of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).
ACS health policy goals include improving surgical patient care and safeguarding standards of that care within an ethical practice environment for the profession. Even in today’s challenging political climate, the College must continue to play a proactive role in bringing meaningful health policy solutions to the attention of Congress and state legislatures.
The ACS Division of Advocacy and Health Policy (DAHP) helps advance the College’s health policy agenda in Congress through lobbying activities and grassroots efforts. In addition, the ACS Professional Association Political Action Committee (ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC) works to impact political affairs. To help develop and advocate for health care policy that is in the best interests of patients and surgeons, the ACS Washington Office liaises with federal, state, and government entities—including Congress, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—on a variety of issues of importance to the surgical profession, including administrative burdens/regulatory relief, physician reimbursement, surgical workforce shortages, and trauma readiness and systems development.
Surgeons who develop health policy expertise are better able to advocate for meaningful, practical policies at the federal and state levels. The ACS encourages all surgeons to become more engaged in advocacy.
Establishing yourself as a surgeon advocate is crucial to making your voice heard. A surgeon’s firsthand experience and training in patient care provide a realistic perspective on health policy issues to members of Congress and their staff. As a result, elected officials will look to you for guidance in resolving complex issues.
The College and the ACSPA offer the following resources to help surgeons directly play a role in advocacy and health policy:
Taking action on key legislative priorities is vital to provide the surgical perspective in Washington. Regular engagement with members of Congress and their staff and serving as a trusted resource on issues of importance to surgeons and surgical patients is an essential part of establishing oneself as a surgeon advocate.
As a first step, surgeons should familiarize themselves with the backgrounds, key committee assignments, voting history, and relevant leadership roles of their representatives and senators. Regularly visiting members’ websites, signing up for e-newsletters or updates, and keeping up with issues they support are great ways to stay informed.
The DAHP has developed new programs to empower surgeon advocates with necessary tools to establish and maintain relationships with legislators to help advance the College’s health policy priorities. These engagement opportunities include the following:
The Advocate of the Year recognition program tracks how engaged surgeons take action and use the ACS advocacy tools. Top advocates establish and maintain relationships with legislators, helping to advance health policy priorities. The Advocate of the Year will be recognized at the annual Clinical Congress, featured in the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons, and invited to participate in other advocacy-related activities. Level of engagement will be measured using the following criteria:
Meeting with elected officials is a powerful way to raise the profile of issues and effect change. While members of Congress and their staff are well-versed on many issues, surgeons are the experts on surgical issues. Similarly, constituent relationships assist policymakers in determining the importance of various issues within their community.
Senators and representatives return home to their states and districts during congressional work periods. In-district meetings are an opportunity to meet with policymakers without traveling to Washington, DC. Through DAHP’s Advocate at Home program, staff can assist with planning, preparing, and executing a successful meeting or event.
Surgeons often approach DAHP staff with questions about the value of advocacy. The following is a sampling of some of these questions and the College’s responses.
The bottom line is that you are your best advocate. All Fellows and members need to be engaged in the College’s advocacy and health policy efforts.