Coronavirus Forces Health Groups to Pivot on Pitch to Lawmakers

For advocate Grace Kranstover, April is supposed to be appropriations season; a time to meet with lawmakers and their staffs to make the case for funding federal health programs for people with diabetes.

The government and public affairs manager for the Endocrine Society had been planning to send her group’s members to Capitol Hill next week to talk about extending the federal Special Diabetes Program and ways to cut insulin prices. Now, the coronavirus pandemic makes in-person meetings inadvisable and Congress is turning its attention largely to the next rescue package. Advocacy groups such as the Endocrine Society are reshaping their messages and the way they’re being delivered.

“One of the keys to advocacy is being in the room where it happens and you can’t do that,” Kranstover said.

Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
The U.S. Capitol on Feb. 4, 2020.

The Endocrine Society canceled its April 20 Hill Day and will now host the event virtually. Instead of scheduling meetings with lawmakers and staffs, the group is coordinating phone calls and emails largely focused on its request for a piece of the fourth coronavirus bill being debated.

That focus means each coronavirus package will be seen as more important than the last as these groups push to get their priorities into law.

Kranstover said her group shifted from talking broadly about insulin affordability—a topic some House lawmakers were eager to address this year—to asking lawmakers to eliminate co-insurance for those buying insulin.

They’re competing for lawmakers’ attention with the biggest interests in health care, hospitals looking to make up financial shortfalls, doctors asking for medical supplies, and states seeking dollars as they respond to the outbreak of the virus.

Shifting Gears

Kranstover’s group isn’t alone in canceling a Hill day. Ten other large-scale groups have canceled Washington-area events from March to June that would have brought to Washington more than 75,000 people from organizations including the American Urological Association, United Health Group, and the International Association of Privacy Professionals, according to Destination DC, a marketing organization.

The economic impact of lost business booked by Destination DC totals at least $86.5 million, the group said.

Staff from pivotal committees, including those responsible for federal spending, are telling advocacy groups to send in their requests for the next coronavirus bill as soon as possible to be considered, according to government affairs managers from these organizations.

Donna Meltzer, CEO of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, said her group has been advocating to maintain funding for the Department of Health and Human Service’s disability programs.

Like Kranstover’s group, the NACDD would normally around this time be meeting with lawmakers to talk about the HHS’s Administration for Community Living supports and how the programs aid people with disabilities.

Now, the group’s focus is on ensuring support professionals, those who serve people with disabilities, can still work during stay-at-home orders, and getting an infusion of cash to put telehealth technologies into the hands of people with disabilities and their health-care providers.

“We really feel this year we lost a huge opportunity for education,” Meltzer said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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