President's Message

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Our Voice

April 2015 
Thomas Ferkol, MD, MD

Thomas Ferkol, MD

Advocacy is central to the mission of the American Thoracic Society. Throughout the year, Society leaders and members meet with the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Veterans Affairs administrators to discuss issues vital to our fields and the health of the patients we treat. We work with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to present Congressional briefings to inform our representatives and their staff on a variety of topics. But ATS Hill Day is special.

Last month, more than 40 ATS members, patients, advocates, and our Government Relations Office staff converged on Capitol Hill where we met face-to-face with members of Congress and their staffs to advocate for ATS members and the patients we serve. In the past, representatives from both parties recognized the problems, but politics always seemed to block progress. This year was different—they sought our advice.

During this visit, Democrat and Republican leaders in the House were considering a compromise to repeal the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula and find a permanent “fix.” Our timing was fortunate in that it fueled their interest in our conversations about solving this problem. Because of the potential for compromise between the two parties, we received a genuinely positive response to our suggestions.

Maybe it was bipartisan spirit, but our meetings with representatives and their staffers were much more interactive, and they asked a lot of questions and were more engaged. For example, everyone feels that the National Institutes of Health is important and needs to be supported, but this year, you really got a sense that they meant it.

Senate and House leaders paid greater attention to the threats of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and they had many questions about the possibilities of outbreaks. This receptiveness could be due in part to Ebola outbreaks, which reminded the public that the world is very small and disease can rapidly become epidemics. We described how, in contrast to Ebola, tuberculosis is a highly communicable airborne disease, which can spread by a cough. Through our discussions, our Congressional representatives and their staff came to recognize that the threat of tuberculosis still exists, and it could be devastating as it adapts and becomes increasingly resistant to standard antibiotics.

Coincidentally, these conversations overlapped with World Tuberculosis Day, and to reinforce the issue with policymakers, the ATS Government Relations Office hosted a Tuberculosis Day briefing with the House of Representatives last week, which included ATS members and representatives from the United Nations and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Personally, I am proud of our Society’s representation during ATS Hill Day. It’s good to be heard.

Last Reviewed: September 2017