Last month, NSGC’s Board of Directors spent a day on Capitol Hill to raise bipartisan awareness for the Access to Genetic Counselor Services Act in the 118th Congress. I wanted to share more about this experience in case you haven’t taken part in a Congressional meeting to discuss our bill before – I hadn’t until now. And honestly, I was a little nervous and mystified about these meetings until I went through one. Now that I have, I can say that the meetings are incredibly similar to conversations we have with people outside our field about the services we provide to patients every day.
The Board’s Hill Day was the first time in three years that an NSGC group returned to in-person Hill visits. It was a day full of energy and anticipation. In total, Board members met with 18 House and Senate offices. Overall, this represented 8 states and Puerto Rico. Whew!
Photo (from Deepti Babu): Cindy James, Colleen Campbell, Deepti Babu, Carrie Haverty, Carla McGruder, Phil Connors (from left to right).
More photos from the day are available on Instagram
NSGC’s Government Relations staff were busy scheduling meetings and preparing our materials before we arrived, even until late in the prior day (last-minute scheduling is how Congressional offices roll!). After training with the staff team, documents in hand, we scattered throughout Senate and House office buildings for meetings with Democratic and Republican Members of Congress and their staff teams. I had no idea that some of these offices take 30 minutes to get to and require waiting in security lines… not an issue for any of us doing virtual visits, thankfully.
Most of our meetings were with staff in our Congressional districts and states, which is often the case. Meetings lasted 15-20 minutes each, usually with another Board member and an NSGC staff member or Capitol Counsel lobbyist. Speaking as their constituents, we could connect our bill to issues happening on the ground – things like local challenges in billing, reimbursement, wait times, and patient access to our services/clinics. My district in Wisconsin (I vote absentee from Canada!) is a vast geographical region covering many rural communities. So I brought up how genetic counselors use telemedicine services to bridge access gaps and have data to support the effectiveness of this, and that seemed to resonate.
Congressional offices were broadly curious about topics that come up when we speak to the public, media, other health care providers or even friends and family about genetic counseling: what we as genetic counselors do within the health care team, how we help patients, and why access to genetic counseling services is vital to promoting health and health care equity for constituents. We offered our bill as a solution to close gaps for Medicare beneficiaries: CMS covers genetic counseling when other health care providers provide it, but does not recognize genetic counselors as health care providers. The upshot? CMS does not pay for genetic counselor services and needs to.
As we walked the hallways, we saw other groups buzzing around to advocate for their issues. We realized just how many issues Congressional staff hear about every day, and why it is so important for them to hear directly from their constituents. The House cafeteria was a loud, boisterous place full of intriguing conversations that I overheard and wanted to join. It was eye-opening and empowering to have the opportunity to advocate for our bill and be an active part of the process.
I hope this helps you to see a bit “behind the curtain” into what a Congressional visit involves. The truth is, we need as many of us to participate in these visits as possible to pass our bill. Visits can occur virtually if that works best. They can also happen in person if you live in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area or are traveling into the area. The NSGC Government Relations team schedules meetings for you, helps you prepare, attends meetings to support you and answers questions along the way. They can also try and accommodate needs you may have, such as longer times between meetings to get to different offices or take a moment to rest and restore in between.
Please sign up for a virtual meeting with your U.S. Representatives’ and/or Senators’ offices by using the QR code or following this link. You can do this even if you’ve signed up before. Andrew Buckley from NSGC’s Government Relations team will contact you to schedule meetings. NSGC’s Advocacy Coordinating Committee of NSGC volunteers is also available if you have questions.
Do you want more information? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org