In my role as the CSA's chairman of the Legislative and Practice Affairs Division (LPAD), I attended the 2011 ASA Legislative Conference in Washington DC last week. The theme this year was something I believe strongly: "All Politics is Local."
I arrived on Sunday evening May 1st at the host hotel, two blocks from the White House. After having dinner with legislative advocates from Pennsylvania and Arizona, I turned on the TV in time to hear about the death of Osama Bin Laden. As I sat transfixed by the television, jubilant noise from a growing crowd near the White House became impossible to miss. Horns were blaring; American flags were waving from cars. It reminded me of being in Rome when Italy won the World Cup of Soccer. I threw on a black leather jacket, jeans, and a pair of comfortable running shoes (just in case), and headed over to the White House. Spontaneous cheers of "U S A, U S A" and large groups singing the national anthem infused the crowd with a spirit of national pride. There must have been 10,000 people celebrating the event. It was incredibly surrealistic, and felt just a little strange that the reason for the celebration was the death of another human being.
After the heady emotions of Sunday night, on Monday I attended the ASA's "Leadership Speaker Training Course," a workshop that teaches anesthesiologists how to represent the specialty of anesthesiology professionally when speaking with the media. We watched examples of excellent speakers (and some that weren't as good), practiced with video cameras, and critiqued one another. For anyone interested in being a spokesperson, I highly recommend the course. Afterward, I had the honor of being selected to speak with a reporter from the New York Times about drug shortages and how they compromise our ability to provide safe anesthesia care to our patients.
Next came discussions about legislative issues among state societies. Our own CSA President Narendra Trivedi gave a great update on the CSA's ongoing lawsuit against former Governor Schwarzenegger's opt-out of physician supervision for nurse anesthetists. There were excellent talks and workshops about how to be an effective political advocate. Several high-ranking members of Congress spoke to the group, including Andy Harris MD of Maryland, the first anesthesiologist to be elected to the House of Representatives.
The next day was dedicated to visiting California's elected officials. Each year the ASA focuses on a few key issues and supplies us with talking points. This year's topics included the following:
- Drug shortages;
- Rural pass-through legislation;
- The inadequacy of Medicare payment for anesthesiology services;
- Truth and transparency legislation.
Along with Drs. Trivedi, CSA President-elect Ken Pauker, and Ela Cudilo (a resident from UCI who is going to be a political advocacy star!), I met personally with the following members of congress: Gary Miller, Ken Calvert, John Campbell, Colleen Hanabusa, and Dana Rohrabacher. We received a positive response on most of the issues. Drs. Trivedi, Pauker and I have cultivated relationships with our elected officials and their staff. When you see them repeatedly in their district offices and in Washington, they come to know you and respond more favorably to our requests for support. There's no substitute for this kind of personal contact!
All politics is local! Please help and get involved: Many CSA members have cultivated personal relationships with their elected officials. If we are to be successful as a specialty at speaking up for our patients and our profession, we all must take part in some form of advocacy. It may be as simple as sitting on a hospital committee or as intense as working in a campaign to elect a member of Congress. We are all ambassadors of our profession, whether we realize it or not!
Visit these websites:
Get to know your legislators and advocate for anesthesiology and patient care!