More MS news articles for April 2003
Advocacy — A Role for Healthcare Professionals
A Clinical Bulletin from the Professional Resource Center of the
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Healthcare professionals have an important role to play as advocates
for people with multiple sclerosis and other health problems. With a modicum
of knowledge about healthcare policy and political strategy, healthcare
professionals can influence the development, passage, and implementation
of legislation that will enhance many aspects of their patients’ care.
CURRENT ISSUES IN NEED OF ADVOCACY
The hopes and needs of patients and their healthcare providers should be
made known to persons in positions to impact the quality of that care.
Legislators and regulators must be kept aware of the impact of their policies
on those who receive care.
It is necessary to impart the views of those with the least voice in the
policy debate—those who are chronically ill and/or disabled—to make the
faces of individual patients real to the policy makers and managed care
and insurance executives.
Healthcare policy might be defined as those issues concerning the organization,
delivery, and financing of healthcare, starting from the patient/doctor
encounter and extending to society as a whole. Other important issues concern
federal funding of biomedical research and support for medical education.
There are many issues deserving of an advocate’s support, including:
Restructuring of Medicare
Medicare prescription drug benefit
Federal and state funding of Medicaid
Maintaining the adequacy of Medicaid coverage, especially for vulnerable
Funding for NIH and other research bodies
Funding of graduate medical education programs
Affordable, quality long-term and chronic illness care
Healthcare professionals should also help patients maintain and enjoy
the rights they have already been awarded with regard to their medical
POLITICAL STRATEGY 101
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which guarantees full participation
in employment, public services, public accommodations, and communications
for people with disabilities.
Family Medical Leave Act, which facilitates time off for employees with
health concerns—their own or those of a family member. Eligible persons
receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave every 12 months while maintaining healthcare
and other job benefits.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects
healthcare coverage for patients and their families when they change or
lose their jobs.
Social Security work incentives, which allow people on Social Security
Disability Insurance (SSDI) to return to work without losing their insurance
benefits, thereby easing the financial burden of attempting to regain self-sufficiency.
Political strategy is largely common sense. One must determine which
issues have political importance and are therefore likely to appear on
the healthcare policy agenda. This is accomplished by listening to the
concerns of the public, the media, and political leaders. To influence
the appropriate people, one must then determine which governmental body
(agency, committee, subcommittee) is involved, and who has the decision-making
power. It is most important to act when the “policy window” is open, and
to continue to advocate for legislation until the necessary changes are
HOW TO ADVOCATE EFFECTIVELY AT THE LOCAL AND NATIONAL LEVEL
HOW TO ADVOCATE EFFECTIVELY FOR INDIVIDUAL PATIENTS
Acquire knowledge of political strategy and healthcare issues and an understanding
of the federal and state budget process.
Become familiar with the issues, develop preferred solutions, and share
Back up your views with solid research.
Support legislation that contributes to the highest quality of healthcare,
and stand behind policymakers who endorse it.
Write and phone your legislators and regulators.
Establish and maintain relationships with legislators and their staff.
Work within networks and coalitions whose missions are similar to your
Join the National MS Society’s advocacy efforts through your chapter’s
government relations activities.
To advocate effectively for individuals with MS, you will need to practice
good documentation. This includes detailing the effects of MS and its treatment,
and noting the ways in which the patient’s disease is affecting activities
of daily living. With such evidence, healthcare providers can advocate
for their patients in such areas as insurance coverage, Social Security
eligibility, and employment competency.
©2003 National Multiple Sclerosis Society