Once again, I had the pleasure of flying to Washington D.C. for a couple days in late September for the American College of Rheumatology’s Advocates for Arthritis program. This year, I was more worried about missing multiple days of school, so my mom and I weren’t able to sightsee or use the getaway as a real vacation. But overall, it was once again a great experience! If you are interested in advocating for yourself, a family member, or your patients, I’d highly recommend looking into this Advocates for Arthritis program in 2019.
The first day of the conference was filled with lectures, roundtables, and lots and lots of PowerPoint presentations! I’ll be the first to admit that even though many of these presentations were quite interesting, I definitely did not pay as much attention to them as I probably should have. Even though I sit through many lectures and lessons in school, I was incredibly antsy the entire day! Another thing I would like to shamefully acknowledge is that at certain points throughout the day, I was actually doing homework or copying notes from my classmates, rather than dedicating my full attention to the speakers. So, if anyone reading this was presenting, I apologize; everything was incredibly interesting, I just couldn’t focus.
Now for the exciting and most rewarding part of the program… the Capitol Hill visits! So, unfortunately, this time, the (Southern) California contingency was unable to meet with any members of Congress. Instead, we met with legislative aides or legislative correspondents. Last year, the California contingency was incredibly lucky because we met with ¾ of the Representatives we were scheduled to meet with, and although we only met with our Senators’ aides, we hadn’t expected to meet individually with the Senators anyway. So, my mom and I were a bit disappointed that we were unable to meet with any actual members of Congress. That being said however, it is actually a bit more helpful and encouraging to meet with their aids instead; in most cases, the aides are the staff who are fully informed about all the bills and issues that are being thrown around both the House and the Senate, whereas the Congressmember is not as informed on many of the issues we bring up! Thus, it was a lot easier to discuss our asks with the aides who were fully aware of and well-researched in all the issues we brought up.
This year, the three items on our agenda were step therapy, osteoporosis, military funding—20 million dollars. Step therapy is essentially a fail-first policy in which insurance programs force patients to try lower-priced medicines first, even if they are not expected to work well. Osteoporosis requires special Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry Bone Testing. However, the cost of the machine harms physicians more than it helps, so many patients who should get this testing end up not getting tested because their physician does not have the machine. Lastly, we requested that the Department of Defense allocate $20 million dedicated to arthritis research. Arthritis is the second-most cited reason for medical discharge (after combat-related injuries). In addition, the research the Department of Defense could do with the funding would impact all American citizens in the future. All in all, I learned about political advocacy, healthcare in the US, and how to step outside my comfort zone. I highly recommend that you take part in this program, or similar programs, if given the chance!