Chair of the Committee on Government Affairs Dr. Alan Rosmarin (left) listens to Dr. Jason Westin (right) speak at the 2018 Grassroots Network Lunch in San Diego.

Chair of the Committee on Government Affairs Dr. Alan Rosmarin (left) listens to Dr. Jason Westin (right) speak at the 2018 Grassroots Network Lunch in San Diego.

At the ASH Grassroots Network Lunch during the 2018 ASH Annual Meeting in San Diego, Dr. Jason Westin shared his story of running for office in Texas’s seventh congressional district in 2018. Dr. Westin, an ASH member, encouraged other hematologists to be advocates for their patients and science. “I think the folks who are in power right now would benefit from having more people such as hematologists … get more involved,” said Dr. Westin.

In an interview with ASH News TV following the lunch, Dr. Westin noted that there are many ways for hematologists to advocate for issues affecting research and practice as well as their patients, ranging from educating legislators to running for office. “We get tunnel vision in what we do in terms of science and in terms of clinical trials and research, and we don’t often appreciate the expertise that we have and that the public gives us credence for,” he said. “I think our expertise is not utilized to its full potential if we’re sitting on the sidelines.”

Also, during the lunch session, Chair of the ASH Committee on Government Affairs Dr. Alan Rosmarin highlighted many of ASH’s recent advocacy efforts. In 2018, the Grassroots Network conducted more than 125 congressional visits. During these visits, hematologists from all over the Unite States successfully pushed for a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Grassroots Network also successfully advocated for the Sickle Cell Disease and Other Heritable Blood Disorders Research, Surveillance, Prevention, and Treatment Act (S. 2465) which passed both chambers of Congress and was sent to the President for his signature in December. The new law reauthorizes sickle cell disease (SCD) prevention and treatment grants awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration and authorizes the federal government to award data collection grants via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the goal of better understanding the prevalence, distribution, and health outcomes of SCD.

Further highlights from 2018 saw Grassroots Network members working to raise public health funding levels, ensuring patients have access to quality care, and supporting physician payment.  ASH members also spent time educating legislators and their staff by participating in multiple ASH-organized congressional briefings on SCD and chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CAR T).

This year, and throughout the new 116th Congress, ASH will continue its advocacy efforts on several important research and practice-related issues including seeking increased federal funding for research, responding to changes in physician reimbursement, ensuring access to safe and effective hematologic drugs, and supporting legislative initiatives concerning sickle cell disease treatment and research.

The Society needs the help of all ASH members to bring issues important to the future of hematology to the attention of the U.S. Congress including the many new members in both the House of Representatives and Senate as well as the administration and U.S. governmental agencies. Members of the ASH Grassroots Network receive action alerts and information about issues of interest. At times, Grassroots Network members are also invited to represent hematology in activities such as visits to Capitol Hill, meetings with NIH leadership and other regulatory agencies, and in visits with congressional leaders back home. Visit the ASH Advocacy Center to participate in the Society’s advocacy campaigns and to join the ASH Grassroots Network. To read about ASH’s policy and advocacy efforts, visit the ASH website.