Hello, patient advocates! Dr. Will Harvey here, Chair of the Government Affairs Committee at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and Director of the Arthritis Treatment Center at Tufts Medical Center.

I’m proud to report that our annual #Act4Arthritis fly-in was a huge success. Nearly 100 (93 to be exact) ACR/ARHP members and patients from 31 sates and D.C. attended meetings on Capitol Hill to advocate for people living with rheumatic diseases. In all, our advocates visited 116 Senate and House offices.

This year’s fly-in was extra special because it coincided with the first ever Rheumatic Disease Awareness Month (#RDAM). RDAM seeks to improve policymakers’ understanding and awareness of rheumatic diseases and the unique and significant healthcare challenges facing Americans living with these chronic, painful, and debilitating conditions.

During our visits we discussed three policy issues that affect rheumatology patients and their ability to access quality, affordable healthcare.

Proposed Cuts to Medicare that Would Restrict Patient Access to Biologics

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed additional cuts to Medicare Part B treatments, including the biologic therapies many rheumatology patients rely on to manage their conditions. This will only make existing patient access problems worse.

Luckily, you can act now by asking your member of Congress to sign a letter urging CMS to stop this proposed payment change.

Innovative Medical Research for Rheumatic Diseases

Rheumatic diseases affect more than 50 million people in the United States – in fact, they are the nation’s leading cause of disability. Arthritis also affects a disproportionate number of U.S. military members, yet the Department of Defense has no dedicated research program to study arthritis. Discoveries made possible by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have led to extraordinary improvements in patient quality of life over the last decade. Unfortunately, funding for NIH today is 25% less than what it was in 2003. We need investment in arthritis research to aid treatment and prevention efforts – and ultimately, to find a cure.

You can take action today by asking your lawmakers to reinvest in government-funded rheumatic disease research.

Repeal Medicare Therapy Caps

In 1997, as part of the Balanced Budget Act, Congress instituted arbitrary caps on Medicare outpatient therapy services, including physical therapy, speech language pathology, and occupational therapy, in an attempt to achieve enough cost savings to balance the federal budget. These therapy caps threaten the health and well-being of millions of Medicare patients living with rheumatic diseases who rely on vital therapy services to manage their chronic conditions. Therapy caps force patients to bear 100% of the cost of care – something many cannot afford. Fortunately, Congress has acted 13 times to temporarily prevent these caps’ implementation, with the current exemption expiring on December 31, 2017. There has been overwhelming bipartisan support to permanently repeal therapy caps via the Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Act (H.R. 775).

You can add your voice by urging your member of Congress to co-sponsor H.R. 775 and get rid of these caps once and for all.

Scroll down to check out some highlights from our advocates’ social media activities during the fly-in.

Thanks to our patient advocates who lend their time and voices to fight for affordable and accessible rheumatology care!

Dr. Will Harvey