• Congressional Advocacy Day 2021: Putting Patients First

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    I’m from San Antonio, Texas, where Cinco de Mayo celebrations are festive. But this year came with a different reason to celebrate: I spent the May 5 holiday on a virtual visit to Capitol Hill with a group of colleagues to meet with our senators and House representatives during Congressional Advocacy Day.

    Prioritizing our health care goals with the competing legislative priorities for elected officials is a difficult, but worthy challenge. Fortunately, the Academy summarizes critical issues with talking points, legislative background and a myriad of options to spearhead topics at various levels. This year, the agenda for Congressional Advocacy Day included four priorities: 

    • Medicare physician payment (fighting cuts and ensuring fairness)
    • Nonphysicians and scope of practice issues at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) regarding laser eye surgery
    • Prior authorization in Medicare Advantage plans
    • National Eye Institute research funds 

    I was part of the Texas contingent participating in Congressional Advocacy Day, which included Chevy Lee, MD, an Academy councilor for Texas; Aaron Miller, MD, MBA, a past Academy councilor for Texas and secretary for Member Services; and Drs. Richard Allen, Naina Gupta and Patricia Nelson. 

    We had discussions with Sabrina Hancock, legislative director, for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Samara Brown, health legislative aide for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. We also met with staff for House Rep. “Chip” Roy, R-Texas.

    For me, sharing our message with lawmakers and staff was positive and encouraging. Their willingness to listen to our concerns and affirm support shows me a willingness to advocate on our behalf to their colleagues in Congress. 

    Moreover, staffers were quick to empower each of us to continue finding innovative and specific ways in which to make real change in our field’s public policy sector. Lastly, although the conversations we had with lawmakers’ congressional staff was fruitful, the relationships we established with them will be of lasting value. I have no doubt they will prove to be beneficial in the future. 

    We need to take advantage of these relationships to make our concerns known. This is challenge No. 1! For many young ophthalmologists, these problems may seem distant or even nonexistent. I strongly caution against this complacency. If we lose ground in advocating for our patients, we will wish that we had done more when we could. 

    I promise to work with the ophthalmology residents of south Texas to put advocacy forward in our education during residency and even early in our careers, and I encourage everyone else to do the same.

    My advice to others: Don’t be fearful about being an advocate for our profession. Advocacy is not selfish — it’s about honoring all ophthalmologists before us, protecting the essence of the profession in preserving sight and recognizing that ophthalmology is an extension of primary care. Our ability to create an impactful moment in a patient’s life to emphasize preventative health is grander than any other specialty. 

    About the author: Michael Offutt, MD, is a PGY-3 at the University of Texas Health in San Antonio, Texas. He is a chief resident and aspiring to become a glaucoma subspecialist. He participated in Congressional Advocacy Day through the Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador Program and was sponsored by the Texas Ophthalmological Association (TOA).