The Hematologist

March-April 2019, Volume 16, Issue 2

Government Affairs Committee Chair Speaks on the Need for Advocacy in the New Congress

ASH Staff American Society of Hematology, Washington, DC

Published on: February 20, 2019

ASH’s advocacy on Capitol Hill has continued briskly since the start of the 116th Congress. In January 2019, ASH’s government affairs staff visited the offices of all 99 incoming members of Congress to welcome them to Washington, and on March 7, the ASH Committee on Government Affairs visited more than 40 congressional offices. Committee members advocated for increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and funding for sickle cell disease (SCD) data collection within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for fiscal year 2020.

To learn more about ASH’s advocacy efforts, The Hematologist spoke with the Chair of the ASH Committee on Government Affairs, Dr. Alan Rosmarin. Dr. Rosmarin has been involved with ASH advocacy for more than a decade and has served as committee chair since 2017. “My involvement with the committee grew out of a lifelong interest in politics and the legislative process,” said Dr. Rosmarin. “The committee amplifies our voices in advocating for what matters most to us as physicians and scientists.”

Visiting legislators in Washington, DC, is a key component of the Society’s advocacy efforts. ASH organizes three major “Hill days” per year, which provide an opportunity for ASH members who are visiting Washington to meet with elected officials. “Being active with the committee on the state and national levels allows us to expand our influence as citizens, beyond what we can accomplish by talking with family, neighbors, colleagues, and others in our hometowns,” emphasized Dr. Rosmarin.

The Committee on Government Affairs also works to influence federal policy in other ways such as crafting policy statements and assisting with feedback for comments on proposed federal rule changes affecting hematologists. “The committee has an important voice in shaping ASH’s legislative and policy priorities,” said Dr. Rosmarin. “As Committee members, we are privileged to receive updates from leaders at NIH, CDC, and other federal agencies, and we benefit from the expertise and hard work of ASH staff.”

Thanks to the efforts of members of the Committee on Government Affairs, as well as ASH’s Executive Committee, Committee on Practice, and Grassroots Network, ASH has achieved numerous important advocacy victories in the past several years. ASH’s advocacy efforts in 2018 culminated with The Sickle Cell Disease and Other Heritable Blood Disorders Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act (S. 2465) being signed into law. This bill reauthorizes SCD prevention and treatment grants awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and authorizes the federal government to award data collection grants via the CDC. Dr. Rosmarin is particularly proud of ASH’s role in crafting the legislation. “Legislators, their aides, and the lay public look to us as experts in our fields who can provide real-world knowledge and experience.” ASH worked closely with both Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to bring these efforts to fruition.

Dr. Rosmarin outlined several priorities for ASH’s advocacy efforts in the coming year, including continued work to ensure sustained funding for NIH, to advance SCD research and treatment, to promote palliative care, and to combat the opioid epidemic in a way that recognizes the unique needs of all patients. “It is remarkably gratifying to advocate for hematology, especially in these challenging times,” he said.

Dr. Rosmarin underscored how easy and fun it is to get involved in ASH’s advocacy efforts. “Even after nearly a decade on this committee,” he remarked, “I still feel like I’m on a class trip to Washington as I walk past the nameplates outside the offices of our Senators and Representatives.”

All ASH members can participate in the Society’s advocacy work by joining the Grassroots Network to receive regular updates and information about how to contact their members of Congress. Additionally, staff in the ASH Government Relations and Practice Department are available to help set up meetings with congressional staff in Washington, DC, or in a legislator’s state or district office. ASH staff can also provide the information needed to be an effective advocate, including fact sheets and relevant talking points. For more information, visit www.hematology.org/advocacy.

ASH members also can participate in the ASH Advocacy Leadership Institute, a two-day educational seminar that sends ASH members to meet with their representatives to advocate for hematology in Washington, DC, or apply to become an ASH Congressional Fellow and spend a year working in a congressional office. “Regardless of how we choose to participate, each of us has a responsibility to be an advocate for the good of patients, science, and the practice of hematology,” said Dr. Rosmarin. “Advocacy can’t be outsourced.”

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