ASH advocacy is forging ahead following the start of the 118th Congress in January of this year. The ASH Committee on Government Affairs, which leads the Society’s advocacy efforts, will be meeting with lawmakers in March to advocate for increased funding for biomedical research and other issues affecting hematology. Later this spring, the ASH Committee on Practice, which works to support the specific needs of practicing physicians, will also be meeting with dozens of lawmakers’ offices to advocate for policies that concern doctors and patients. These policies include a wide range of issues, from sickle cell disease legislation that aims to expand comprehensive care for patients on Medicaid, to legislation that will improve access to care, including palliative care, for patients with hematologic malignancies.
To learn more about advocacy efforts with the new Congress, The Hematologist spoke with the Chair of the ASH Committee on Practice, Dr. Chancellor Donald. Dr. Donald has been involved with ASH advocacy for more than eight years and has served as chair of the committee since 2020.
“I think there is a misconception out there that only the Committee on Government Affairs engages in active, structured advocacy. This is not the case,” explained Dr. Donald. “Practicing hematologists need a voice in Washington because of our specialized work in a variety of settings, and since its inception, the Committee on Practice has been educating lawmakers about a diverse set of issues ranging from Medicare reimbursement rates to federal telehealth policy.”
Although the 118th Congress ushers in an era of divided government, with the House of Representatives changing party control, this will not stop ASH from advocating on behalf of hematologists. “Hematologic disorders and conditions can affect all of us regardless of our political ideologies,” stated Dr. Donald. “Therefore, the intersection of the policy and practice of hematology affects both parties, and we want to educate all lawmakers on these issues no matter their political affiliation.”
The start of every new congressional session brings with it a new batch of freshman lawmakers, and ASH advocates work hard to meet with these newly elected members. There are 82 freshmen in the 118th Congress: 75 in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate. ASH has reached out to every newly elected member to introduce them to hematology and share the Society’s advocacy priorities. “I am very proud of the Society’s advocacy work so far this year. We’ve hit the ground running by making sure that every newly elected member of Congress knows about the important work that hematologists do across the country,” said Dr. Donald. “This helps lay the foundation for every interaction we’ll have in the future. Effective advocacy is an ongoing process; we don’t expect for one interaction to have a high probability to impact change. We focus on building longstanding relationships.”
Dr. Donald outlined several priorities for ASH’s advocacy efforts with an impact on practicing hematologists. In the coming year, the Committee on Practice will focus on legislation addressing prior authorization, advancing SCD research and treatment, and promoting palliative care. “It is extremely important for hematologists to be active and advocate on behalf of our patients,” he said.
Dr. Donald also underscored how easy it is for hematologists to get involved in ASH’s advocacy efforts, “From sending an email to meeting with your member of Congress on Capitol Hill, every action makes a difference for our patients.”
ASH members can join the Grassroots Network to receive regular updates and information about how to contact their members of Congress. Additionally, staff in the ASH Government Relations and Practice department are available to help arrange meetings with congressional staff. Meetings can be held either virtually or in person in Washington, DC, or in a legislator’s state or district office. ASH staff also provides the information needed to be an effective advocate, including fact sheets and relevant talking points.
Additionally, ASH members can become more involved by participating in the ASH Advocacy Leadership Institute (ALI), a two-day workshop that educates ASH members about policy and advocacy, provides them with the opportunity to meet with their elected officials, and encourages them to advocate for issues affecting hematology. Members can also apply to become an ASH Congressional Fellow and spend a year working in a congressional office in Washington, DC.
For more detailed information about all the ways you can become involved in ASH’s advocacy efforts, visit www.hematology.org/advocacy.
“Regardless of how we choose to participate, each of us has a responsibility to be an advocate for the good of patients, science, and the practice of hematology; each vantage point is needed to reveal the most complete picture of the landscape affecting our families and fellow citizens’ ability to receive appropriate, up-to-date care,” said Dr. Donald.