The Academy monitors federal governmental policies that affect ophthalmologists and patients through the Secretariat for Federal Affairs. YO Info keeps a close watch on upcoming changes so young ophthalmologists can keep abreast of these situations in Washington, D.C.
Get to know one of your advocacy experts, Ninita Brown, MD, PhD, a new member of the Academy’s YO Advocacy subcommittee, so that you can learn how to be involved in shaping the future our profession.
A glaucoma specialist at the Thomas Eye Group in Atlanta, Dr. Brown discusses her roots as an advocate, the issues that all YOs should be concerned about and how you can get involved in protecting your profession.
What are the different roles you’ve played in advocating for ophthalmology at the state and federal level?
Dr. Brown: It all started when I was a resident at Howard University. Dr. Robert Copeland, the former ophthalmology chairman, used to send all of the residents to the Mid-Year Forum as part of the Advocacy Ambassador Program. That was my first exposure to any kind of advocacy. After that, I went to Duke University for glaucoma fellowship and really wanted to go back to the MYF. So I got involved with the North Carolina Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, who sponsored me to attend.
Through joining that society, I met a lot of great leaders who inspired me to eventually join their board. Within months of that happening, North Carolina got hit with a scope of practice bill, and we had to rush to organize. It was a great experience!
What is one issue on the federal level about which every YO should contact their representatives?
Dr. Brown: That would be the overburdening of [health insurance] prior-authorization requirements in ophthalmology. There are a lot of issues to be concerned about, but most YOs are just starting their practices or joining practices, and a large amount of responsibility for prior authorizations will likely fall onto your lap. You likely won’t have the necessary support staff, so this really is a regulation that can overwhelm your clinic (and your young career) from the get-go.
What are the differences between advocating on the national versus state level?
Dr. Brown: On a state level, it’s all about developing a personal relationship with your state representatives. And it’s really not as difficult as you might think. They are very receptive and not as inundated with different policy makers and lobbyists like their federal counterparts. You can literally call your local officials on their cell phones and invite them out to lunch!
Advocating on the national level is a bit more complicated. You not only have to be very involved, but also have to be extremely knowledgeable on a large range of issues – it can be a little overwhelming. So if you’re just starting out in the world of advocacy, a good first step is to join your state ophthalmology society.
What are you most excited about for this year’s Mid-Year Forum?
Dr. Brown: I just moved to Georgia last July, so I’m thrilled to work alongside my new colleagues, meet all of the state representatives who are attending and really get exposure to the local issues. The Georgia Society of Ophthalmology has recently dealt with a few scope-of-practice battles, and so it’s exciting to join the team and get started with all of the collaboration that goes into advocating for your profession and patients. Meeting new friends in this environment is always good!
Based on your recent attendance at the federal affairs secretariat meeting, what are the most pressing issues for YOs today?
Dr. Brown: There are a lot of really important issues today for YOs to consider – be it step therapy, drug payment, the different regulations regarding Medicare Advantage programs. What’s most important for YOs though is just to start getting involved and learning how to actually do advocacy. And that’s really the goal of the Academy’s YO Advocacy subcommittee. Whether it be educating yourself on the YO Info website, learning from colleagues at the annual meeting and Mid-Year Forum, or just pledging to the Surgical Scope Fund or OPHTHPAC®. Just get involved.
Remember that the issues are always going to change and evolve, so, perhaps most importantly, start a relationship with your state society – you’ll learn how to talk to your representatives and get a view of how things really work on the legislative level.
About the author: Mike Mott is a former assistant editor for EyeNet Magazine and contributing writer for YO Info.