Stephanie K. Rink, MS, MLS(ASCP)CMSCCM, ASCLS PAC Chair

Members of ASCLS-MI meet with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.

For me and many ASCLS members, the Legislative Symposium in Washington, D.C., each March is the most anticipated event of the year. The venue steeped in history, the camaraderie with fellow laboratorians from across the country, and the opportunity to advocate for our profession and the patients we serve are all things to look forward to each year.

While the event is advertised each year as a two-day conference, many members make the trek to Washington, D.C., early to participate in an ASCLS Board Meeting, Government Affairs Committee Meeting, or Political Action Committee Meeting. These meetings are generally open to all members and are a great way to learn about a number of issues surrounding the medical laboratory science profession and how ASCLS plans to address those issues. It is always enlightening to hear about the behind-the-scenes activities of the organization.

The conference officially begins on Monday morning. The day is filled with updates on the political environment in Washington, D.C.; information on the legislative topics to be discussed with our congresspeople; and role-playing exercises to prepare for our trips up to Capitol Hill.

This year, the two primary issues discussed were the negative impact Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) implementation will have on patient access to effective, timely, and quality laboratory testing, and strategies to address the critical medical laboratory workforce shortage. Other topics briefly touched upon were the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Personnel Regulation Request for Action, the Diagnostic Accuracy and Innovation Act, and the importance of donating to the ASCLS Political Action Committee. The day closed out with another anticipated feature of the event—a wine and hors d’oeuvre reception.

Finally, the culmination of the event is the trip up to Capitol Hill to meet with our senators and representatives to explain our concerns and present them with solutions to the issues. The Legislative Symposium is a collaborative event including members of the Clinical Laboratory Management Association (CLMA), American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), Association of Genetic Technologists (AGT), American Medical Technologists (AMT), and the National Society for Histotechnology (NSH). It is interesting to network with members from these organizations and learn their viewpoints on the issues surrounding the profession.

We all left in groups Tuesday morning, out into the cold and the sleet, and headed straight to our senators’ offices. Both senators from Michigan host coffee hours, where we get to meet personally with staffers and the senators to discuss our concerns and solutions. We told them how new payment rates for the Clinical Laboratory Fee Schedule under the implementation of PAMA are based on flawed data and thus do not represent a true market-based payment system. We followed up with a request that they support a statutory adjustment to these rates to provide temporary relief, while also providing time for a proper data collection process to occur so appropriate long-term rates can be set.

We also discussed the serious shortage of medical laboratory professionals and requested that they enhance recruitment within the Veterans Affairs system, as well as authorize the Government Accountability Office to perform a study of the shortage and its impact on healthcare.

After meeting with both senators as a group, we split into smaller groups to meet with our individual representatives. We also stopped by each office from Michigan that did not have a constituent in attendance to drop off information about these issues along with contact information for our state Government Affairs Committee.

Overall, this year’s Legislative Symposium was highly productive and enjoyable. While I’m already looking forward to next March, advocacy is not a once-a-year event that can be accomplished by a few members from each state.

I encourage every member to take a few minutes to look up the information about the Advocacy-Issues on the ASCLS website and send an email or leave a phone message with your senators and representative. Stay informed about the issues and in touch with your legislators. Follow up with them, meet with them at a local coffee hour, or even consider attending the Legislative Symposium next March. I can promise you won’t be disappointed.