From the Washington Office: Who we are and what we do



Senior staff of the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy was recently approached and asked to consider contributing a monthly column for ACS Surgery News. Unanimously, we agreed that it was imperative to do so and with this inaugural column, we embark on such an endeavor.

As many Fellows may be unfamiliar with the College’s Washington, DC, office and the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy, we thought it might be instructive with our first contribution to provide an overview of the office. However, being mindful of the proximity to the November elections, I will also refer Fellows to Election 2014: Issue-based considerations from a surgeon’s perspective in the Sept. 30th edition of the ACS Advocate for a quick refresher on some of the cogent issues expected to impact surgeons and their patients in the 114th Congress.

The ACS offices in Washington, DC, are located at 20 F St., NW, on the “Senate side” of Capitol Hill. The Division of Advocacy and Health Policy consists of 20 staff members working in the following areas: Legislative and Political Affairs, Quality Affairs, and Regulatory Affairs and State Affairs.

The Legislative and Political Affairs section currently consists of a Deputy Director, John Hedstrom, JD; as well as Manager of Political Affairs, Sara Morse; and lobbyists Matt Coffron and Heather Smith. Obviously, their focus is upon working toward the passage of legislation that furthers the College’s objectives of assuring access to quality surgical care. In the course of doing so, ACS staff routinely interface and work with not only individual members of Congress but also with congressional staff representing those individual members as well as the committee staff of the major committees of jurisdiction for our issues: 1) House Committee on Energy and Commerce; 2) House Ways and Means Committee; and 3) Senate Finance Committee. This section supports the College’s Legislative Committee.

ACSPA-SurgeonsPAC and the ACSPA-SurgeonsVoice platform of the Health Policy Advisory Council are managed by this section as well. The access to legislators facilitated by SurgeonsPAC enables us to have an opportunity to frame the argument on the issues affecting surgical patients and the practice of surgery. SurgeonsVoice provides resources for Fellows to develop relationships with their individual senators and representatives such that they too can actively participate in advocacy both at home via in-district meetings and here on Capitol Hill.

Though legislation and its attendant politics frequently garner more attention, it is the sections of Quality Affairs and Regulatory Affairs that concentrate on the effects of that successful legislation that becomes law and thus impacts surgeons and their patients. Staffing these sections are Manager of Regulatory Affairs, Vinita Ollapaly, JD; Manager of Quality Affairs, Jill Sage, MPH; as well as Sana Gokak, MPH; Neha Agrawal and Sarah Kurusz. Specific activities of this section include support of the General Surgery Coding and Reimbursement Committee and the annual ACS response to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule. This year that rule included proposals to eliminate 10- and 90-day global codes and to eliminate an exemption in the Open Payments (“Sunshine Act”) for physicians who serve as speakers at accredited CME programs. These areas of the ACS also assist Fellows in understanding and maintaining compliance with the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS). An excellent example of their work product can be found in the September issue of the ACS Bulletin entitled, “The benefits of PQRS participation and what the College is doing on your behalf (p. 28).

The State Affairs section moved to the Washington, DC, office from Chicago just over a year ago. Jon Sutton, who has been with ACS for 16 years, heads up this section and is assisted by Justin Rosen and Tara Leystra, MPH. Current active projects on which Jon and his team are engaged include obtaining coverage for bariatric surgery in the essential benefit packages of the various state exchanges, passage of the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act, as well as supporting the legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts of state chapters. The State Affairs section also supports the ACS delegation to the AMA House of Delegates and administers the State Lobby Day grant program.

The Director of the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy is Christian Shalgian, who has been with ACS for more than 16 years. Frank Opelka, MD, FACS (Medical Director for Quality and Health Policy) and I (Medical Director for Advocacy) are extremely pleased to have joined him this past June and look forward to assisting our Fellows and the College with challenges facing healthcare in the near and long-term future. We also look forward to contributing to ACS Surgery News as a means by which to communicate with you about our efforts relative to same.

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