Editor’s note: The “Legacies of Hospital Medicine” is a recurring opinion column submitted by some of the best and brightest hospitalists in the field, who have helped shape our specialty into what it is today. It is a series of articles that reflect on Hospital Medicine and its evolution over time, from a variety of unique and innovative perspectives.
Medical professional societies have many goals and serve numerous functions. Some of these include education and training, professional development, and shaping the perception of their specialty both in the medical world and the public arena. Advocacy and governmental affairs are also on that list. SHM is no exception to that rule, although we have taken what is clearly an unorthodox approach to those efforts and our strategy has resulted in an unusual amount of success for a society of our size and age.
As my contribution to the “Legacies” series, I am calling upon my 20-year history of participation in SHM’s advocacy and policy efforts to describe that approach, recount some of the history of our efforts, and to talk a bit about our current activities, goals, and strategies.
In 1999 the leadership of SHM decided to create the Public Policy Committee and to provide resources for what was, at the time, a single dedicated staff position to support the work of the committee. As nascent as our efforts were, the strategy for entering into the Washington fray was clear. We decided our priorities were first and foremost to educate our “targets” on exactly what a hospitalist was and on the increasing role hospitalists were playing in the American health care system.
The target audience was (and has remained) Congress, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee, which is the advisory board tasked to recommend to Congress how Medicare should spend its resources. The goal of this education was to establish our credibility and to advance the notion that we were the experts on care design for acutely ill patients in the inpatient setting. To this end, we decided that, when we met with folks on the Hill, we would ask for nothing for ourselves or our members, an approach that was virtually unheard of in the halls of Congress.
When responding to questions as to why we were not bringing “asks” to our Hill meetings, we would simply comment that we were only offering our services. And whenever they decided to try to make the health care system better and expertise was required regarding redesign of care in the hospital, they should think about us. Our stated goal: improve the delivery system and provide better and more cost-effective care for our patients.
We also exercised what I will call “issue discipline.” With very limited resources it was critical that we limit our issues to ones on which we could have significant impact, and had enough expertise to shape an effective argument. In addition, as we were going to be operating within a highly partisan system and representing members with varying political views, it was highly important that we did not approach issues in a way that resulted in our appearing politically motivated.
That approach took a lot of time and patience. But as a small and relatively under-resourced organization, we saw it as the only way that we could eventually have our message heard. So for many years the small contingent of SHM staff and the members of the Public Policy Committee (PPC) worked quietly to have our specialty and society recognized by policy makers in Washington and Baltimore (where CMS resides). But in the years just prior to and since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when serious redesign of the American health care system began, our patience started to pay dividends and policy makers actually reached out for our input on issues related to the care of patients admitted to acute care hospitals. In addition, our advocacy efforts started to gain more traction.
Today, our specialty and society are well known by the key health care policymakers at CMS, MedPAC, and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), the latter of which was created by the ACA and whose role is to test the new alternative payment models (like accountable care organizations and bundled payments) to find out if they actually lead to better outcomes and lower costs. In the halls of Congress, especially with the health care staff for the committees of jurisdiction for federal health care legislation, our society is seen as an “honest broker” and as an organization committed not just to the issues that impact our members, but one that has the improvement of the entire health care system at the top of its priority list. We have been told that this perception gives us a voice that is much more influential than would be expected for a society of our age, size, and resources.
Along the way, the PPC has grown to a committee of 20 select members led by committee chair Joshua Lenchus, DO, RPh, SFHM. The committee is known to be among the most difficult committees to get on, and members commit to hours of work monthly to support our efforts. Our government relations staff in Philadelphia is still small at just three, but they are extremely bright and productive. Director Josh Boswell serves as their extremely capable leader. Josh Lapps and Ellen Boyer round out the incredibly strong team. Recently, my role evolved from being the long-term chairman of the PPC to one of volunteer staff, as the senior advisor for government relations. In this role I hope to support our full time staff, especially in our Washington-facing efforts.
The SHM staff has brought several systemic improvements to our advocacy work, including execution of several highly successful “Hill Days” and, more recently, the establishment of our “Grassroots Network” that allows a wider swath of our membership to get involved in the field. The Hill Days occur during years when the SHM Annual Conference is in Washington, and one of the days includes busing hundreds of hospitalists to Capitol Hill for meetings with their representatives to discuss our advocacy issues. Our next Hill Day will be at the 2019 annual conference, and we will be signing up volunteer members for this unique experience.
The success of our advocacy can be seen in several high-level “wins” over the last few years. Some of the more notable include: