Getting EM on the Congressional Radar

By Christie L. Carter

May 01, 2012 

 ED Visit 2012
Dr. Wes Brewer (second from left) hosted Rep. John Yarmuth (fourth from left) at the University of Louisville Hospital, where Rep. Yarmuth shadowed an EM attending.

Every day, emergency physicians across the United States feel the effects of decisions made on Capitol Hill. But some choose not to contact their local legislators because they question if one person – or even a small group of people – can really effect change. Dr. Paul Kozak and other emergency physicians who have hosted a congressperson or other legislator in their emergency department know without a doubt that the answer is yes.

Dr. Kozak, president of Arizona ACEP, has hosted two congressmen at Mayo Clinic Hospital’s emergency department in Phoenix, the most recent being Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.). "At each Leadership and Advocacy Conference in D.C., our group meets with senators, representatives, and their health care liaisons to discuss current issues," said Dr. Kozak. "I always leave a business card and invite them to tour our emergency department and see firsthand how it works. I offer to serve as a resource for them should they have a question about any health care legislation."

After receiving the news that Rep. Schweikert was coming to visit his emergency department, Dr. Kozak immediately contacted Jeanne Slade, ACEP’s Political Action Director, who briefed him on the very latest legislative news that could affect emergency medicine and provided him with additional reading material.

Rep. Schweikert’s visit included a quick tour of the ED, followed by a discussion of the latest legislative issues, specifically H.R. 157, which would provide limited liability protections to (emergency and on-call) physicians who perform EMTALA-mandated services.

"He hadn’t been aware of the bill prior to our visit, but shortly afterward, I received an e-mail from his legislative counsel saying that Rep. Schweikert had agreed to cosponsor H.R. 157," said Dr. Kozak.

While that was an ideal outcome, Dr. Kozak says he also wanted Rep. Schweikert to associate a face with a name. "It’s always better when you need their support to have at least started establishing a relationship. You can then approach your congressman and say, ‘This new legislation is coming up, and these are the reasons why I think you should be familiar with this issue.’ "

Dr. Craig Newgard also asked Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) to tour the emergency department at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) when he met him at the 2011 ACEP Leadership and Advocacy Conference. "ACEP’s Washington office was very effective in giving us great talking points," said Dr. Newgard. "There were several sound bites from those talking points that Rep. Schrader proved very interested in."

Much like Dr. Kozak, Dr. Newgard said he reached out to Rep. Schrader to establish a relationship and inform the congressman of today’s critical emergency medicine issues.

"We wanted to put emergency medicine on his radar and form the foundation for an ongoing dialogue with his office," said Dr. Newgard. "Key for me was dispelling some of the myths that are commonly cited in the media to make sure that he is armed with accurate information and will hopefully represent us better as a result of that."

The visit made an impact on Rep. Schrader. "I was extremely impressed with OHSU’s methods of providing the most efficient and effective health care possible," said Rep. Schrader. "I was also surprised to learn that, despite popular belief, 92% of the 124 million people who visit U.S. emergency departments every year have conditions that require care within 2 hours, yet emergency care entails less than 2% of the nation’s health care expenditures. As lawmakers, it is important for us to realize the extraordinary work our health care professionals are doing every day."

Dr. Wes Brewer, chairman of Kentucky ACEP’s Government Affairs Committee, says the biggest advantage comes in hosting a congressperson on your "home turf." "When we lobby these folks in Washington or call their office and leave a message with their staff, it’s just not the same thing as having them in your emergency room," said Dr. Brewer, who hosted Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) at University of Louisville Hospital.

Rep. Yarmuth’s visit was so successful that he asked to shadow an emergency medicine attending during the physician’s night shift. "It was enlightening for me to see just how much difference it made having the congressman here on our turf," said Dr. Brewer. "We could say the same thing in a much more powerful way with him here in the emergency department."

Seeing the challenges that emergency physicians face firsthand allows Amanda Moninghoff, a member of Sen. Chris Coons’ (D-Del.) staff, to perform her job with greater understanding. "I recently toured the emergency room at Christiana Care in Newark, Del. – it was an experience that not only allowed me to see the latest technology, but it also gave me a glimpse into the ongoing challenge of ensuring physicians have the tools and skills to do their jobs with precision," she said. "Seeing this firsthand means that I can give the senator a better perspective on the needs of our health care professionals, as well as the community that they serve."

For some, hosting a legislator requires stepping out of their comfort zone, but a background in politics is not required. "I’m not a political animal by any stretch of the imagination, and I never wanted to get involved in politics. But I realized that if I want emergency medicine to look a certain way 10 or 15 years from now, I have to get on the stick and do something to change it, or I’m not going to like the result," Dr. Kozak said.

For more information on scheduling an ED visit for your federal legislator or other federal grassroots activities, please contact Jeanne Slade at (800) 320-0610, ext. 3013.


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