The American Association of Orthodontists recently conducted its annual Professional Advocacy Conference in Washington, DC. Each year, members visit various Congressional offices on Capitol Hill to advocate for various topics of concern to the AAO. For 2018, in a unique twist, this annual conference was held at the tail end of the 2018 AAO Annual Session in Washington, DC. This pairing of the two events resulted in the largest advocacy participation in recent memory.
The Northeastern Society of Orthodontists was a proud participant in the annual Advocacy conference. Our delegation had a blend of residents and new and younger members, as well as seasoned orthodontists with much experience on the Hill.
The AAO’s Council on Government Affairs (COGA) has the stated goal for 2018 “to continue working with the 115th Congress on issues of importance to orthodontists as small business owners and health care professionals.” It is important that members of Congress understand that the majority of American orthodontists are faced with the sometimes seemingly contradictory concerns, as both small business owners and health care professionals.
The Professional Advocacy Conference is conducted over two days. The first day is dedicated to issue orientation training, proper decorum for Congressional office visits, and ending the day with invited members of Congress speaking to the participants at an evening dinner. The second day consists of actual visits to various members of Congress, often from members’ home districts. Participants are given materials, or “leave behinds,” to assist in the presentation to Members or Legislative Assistants.
For the 2018 Conference, the top concerns were Bills related to the RAISE Act (H.R. 1204) and reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) via the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508). The residents and younger members of the NESO delegation were able to speak directly regarding the issues surrounding crushing student debt. Legislators were informed that orthodontic residents now complete training with an average debt of more than $428,000.
Additional discussions were centered on repeal of the medical device tax, health coverage options for small businesses, tax reform, and association health plans to name just a few areas of concerns. Congressional staffers were particularly concerned with the shared personal stories of the advocacy participants. These personal experiences help to demonstrate the impact of various pieces of legislation and/or proposed legislation in a more meaningful manner than dry text.
A full accounting of these measures as well as many other legislative initiatives can be found on the AAO website. Each year COGA strives, with assistance from our Washington DC-based lobbyist, Arnold & Porter, to develop and present issues of concern to AAO membership. COGA actively encourages members of the AAO to submit issues of concern to the Council for consideration.
The members of the NESO delegation believe that our annual visits to Capitol Hill (supplemented by Trustee and Council visits throughout the year) help legislators better understand our professional concerns. Our message was more widely spread this year due to the large number of participants in 2018, especially in comparison to levels of participants at previous advocacy conferences. It is hoped that at the next Advocacy Conference in 2019 we will be able generate a similar level of interest and participation. If we don’t advocate for the concerns of our members and all orthodontists, it will be left to those who may not have our best interests in mind.
For further information on participation in Advocacy Conferences, please contact Sean Murphy, Associate General Counsel for the AAO, Dr. John Callahan, NESO Trustee or Dr. Lisa Howard, NESO representative to COGA.
Phil Mansour, Chair, AAOPAC