By Washington’s standards, 2020 has been an eventful year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Congress into action, quickly passing three comprehensive relief packages before Republicans and Democrats took vastly different approaches to a fourth package on which, as of press time, an agreement still has not been reached. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services implemented numerous regulatory flexibilities in a short timeframe to allow providers to deliver COVID-related care and continue to deliver ongoing care to patients safely. All of this activity is the exception, not the rule in Washington, especially in the age of hyper partisanship; but, these actions have transformed how physicians deliver health care during the pandemic.
With the demands of COVID-19 impacting your practices, engaging in health policy may not seem like something that should be added to your already lengthy to do lists, but you have the power to influence policy outcomes in ways meaningful to your patients, individual practice, and institutions. One ongoing way to engage in health policy advocacy is to help educate your patients on their health coverage, as well as the cost of their prescription drugs, and the policies that influence both. Another important action is to provide information about voting, as many did in this election year, but engagement is not limited to voting.
At the time of writing, the outcome of the election is unknown, but hopefully, has been settled by the time you read this. Voters selected the next administration, one third of the Senate, and all of the House of Representatives. Congress is back in Washington for a lame duck session to address government funding, most likely additional COVID-19 relief, and a number of other health programs. These election results will influence health policy in the next Congress and coming years, including the Supreme Court hearing California v. Texas, the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which took place exactly a week after the election. While the Court will not release a decision until into well into 2021, the new Congress will be forced to address the issue of health care coverage should the ACA be overturned in whole or part as up to 21 million Americans lose their coverage—some of whom may be your patients.
Congressional elections occur every two years, and the Presidential election every four, but opportunities for general internists to lead on health policy issues of importance to practice are not limited to elections years. Looking ahead to 2021, there will be opportunities for general internists to speak to their members of Congress, providing your prospective as physicians, but also how polices affect your patients who are also constituents. You can advocate on your priority issues while sharing your patients’ experiences with members of Congress, painting an important picture of what is occurring on the ground, that members factor into their policy decisions. Members of Congress look to you as experts on health care when you share this information.
Should you feel overwhelmed about how to engage in health policy advocacy, determine what issues mean the most to you and your patients and check out SGIM’s health policy agenda.1 You do not need special training or a special position. The following quote from John C. Maxwell says it best:
“Everyone is a leader because everyone influences someone.”
Look to the websites of your senators and representative and then start by sending an e-mail, picking up the phone, or attending a virtual town hall to share your story and perspective whether it be about coverage, access, telehealth, or whatever issue you wish to prioritize. Tell your story to Congress and then tell your colleagues how it went!