Society Brings Researchers to Capitol Hill to Advocate for NIH Funding

Springtime in Washington, D.C., always includes cherry blossoms; bus loads of tourists visiting the national monuments, memorials, and museums; and groups who come to Capitol Hill to advocate on issues Congress is considering. The Endocrine Society is no exception.

On May 10, we brought a diverse group of members who conduct research to Washington for a Researcher Hill Day. Because Congress is currently considering funding for fiscal year 2019, which begins October 1, this was a strategic time to bring endocrine researchers to town to share our funding request and educate congressional offices about the value of endocrine-related research. Participants included members from the Advocacy and Public Outreach Core Committee (APOCC), the Research Affairs Core Committee (RACC), Council, participants from the Early Career Forum at ENDO 2018, and participants in the Society’s Future Leaders Advancing Endocrinology Research (FLARE) program. All the participants – whether this was their first time visiting their member of Congress or they have been regular participants in Society advocacy activities – found the experience valuable.

“Advocacy drives positive change to improve the lives of patients, physicians and populations. Telling our personal stories and the stories of our patients through advocacy is one of the most critical endeavors of an Endocrinologist.” – Joshua Joseph, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

“Participating in Hill Day made me realize how important both science communication and advocacy are in order to advance discovery and innovation,” says Heidi Vanden Brink, BSc, MSc, RDMS, PhD Candidate at Cornell University and an Early Career ENDO 2018 attendee who took part in the Hill Day. “It was incredibly insightful to meet with congressmen and their staff to understand their roles in advancing science and healthcare and emphasized to me how imperative it is to be able to speak fluently with non-scientists about the relevance of research in our daily lives.”

What Happens During a Society Hill Day?

“Members of the Society that attend Hill Day have the opportunity to gain understanding of how the legislative body of government works and how funding is appropriated,” says Henry Anhalt, DO, vice president of Medical Affairs at Science37 and Endocrine Society Council Member. “The experience begins with a very comprehensive orientation and identification of the key issues we are advocating for and how to communicate them. In addition, members have the opportunity to meet with their representatives and establish relationships with staffers that will endure past the day itself. Lastly and most importantly, members get to see up close and personal how the Society advocates for us, our scientific endeavors, and the patients we care for.”

Participants gathered at the Endocrine Society Headquarters first thing in the morning for a breakfast briefing led by Society Government and Public Affairs staff. There, they went over the materials for Hill Day, talking points for their visits, and what to expect. Then, armed with state-specific fact sheets about how funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is used and some additional hand-outs provided by the Society, they broke into small groups accompanied by Society staff and headed for Capitol Hill. Throughout the day, participants visited between six to eight congressional offices with their group, which included their Senate delegation and their representative’s office. Some groups had the opportunity to meet with the representative or senator, but most met with the congressional staff in the office who work on health issues. Visits to congressional offices are quick – about 15 to 30 minutes – plus time to take a photo and tweet out to the member of Congress, so our participants had to carefully hone in on their messages and get down to business.

“It was incredibly insightful to meet with congressmen and their staff to understand their roles in advancing science and healthcare and emphasized to me how imperative it is to be able to speak fluently with non-scientists about the relevance of research in our daily lives.” – Heidi Vanden Brink, BSc, MSc, RDMS, PhD candidate, Cornell University

“When members of The Endocrine Society participate in Hill Days and advocacy campaigns, we become the voice of over 17,000 clinicians and researchers and the endocrine patients who need our help,” says Research Hill Day participant Margaret Eckert-Norton, PhD, assistant director and associate professor at St. Josephs College, and chair of the Endocrine Society Advocacy and Public Outreach Core Committee. “We know that endocrine disorders such as diabetes, infertility and thyroid problems impact millions of individuals and their families. Reminding our policy makers about the science behind the issues supports evidence-based decisions. Through interaction with our representatives, member advocates help promote funding and legislation to facilitate research and improve health outcomes.”

What Did We Ask For?

Our Hill Day participants focused on asking Congress to support $39.3 billion for NIH in FY 2019. This number was developed by the broad research community, including other medical societies, research organizations, universities, and patient advocacy groups so that we all would go to Congress with the same “ask” and not fall into the trap of pitting one disease group against another. While the $39.3 billion figure sounds very large, it actually represents a realistic request that would continue NIH’s funding trajectory. Since 2003, NIH has lost 22% of its spending capacity because of budget cuts, sequestration, and inflation. Since 2017, Congress has begun to make up for years of flat funding by providing a $2 billion increase in FY 2017 and $3 billion in FY 2018. Our request would provide a $2 billion increase for NIH’s base plus additional funding for the 21st Century Cures Initiative in FY 2019 and would continue to help close the gap between current funding and constant dollars.

Researcher Hill Day participants prep for visits to Congressional offices: Benson Akingbemi, Margaret Eckert-Norton, Amita Bansal, Joshua Joseph, Heidi Vanden Brink, Henry Anhalt, Rita Kalyani, Rabab Jafri, Cynthia Stuenkel, Shana McCormack, and Manisha Taya.

In addition to our funding request for the NIH, we also shared recommendations for language to be included in the Appropriations Report that will accompany the funding bill. We recommended language that asks the NIH Director to expand research on PCOS beyond reproduction to include other co-morbidities such as diabetes, heart disease, and mental health. We also recommended language that asks the NIH to examine the effect of increasing the current modular budget cap to reduce administrative burden on grant writers and reviewers.

How You Can Help Share Our Funding Request

Our Hill Day group was able to visit close to three dozen congressional offices. Every office was receptive and supportive but agreed that it was important to “keep up the noise” lest members of Congress forget about the value of biomedical research and the danger of funding cuts.

We will continue to follow-up with Congress but urge all U.S. members to join our online advocacy campaign at www.endocrine.org/takeaction to tell your member of Congress to support $39.3 billion for the NIH. Taking action is quick and easy. Simply click on the campaign, provide your zip code, and our software will direct an email to your congressional delegation.

If you are interested in participating in an Endocrine Society Hill Day, please contact govt-prof@endocrine.org. We will be taking a group of clinician members to Capitol Hill on October 1 and we are planning another researcher Hill Day on September 13.

“Advocacy drives positive change to improve the lives of patients, physicians and populations,” says Hill Day participant Joshua Joseph, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and former FLARE Fellow. “Telling our personal stories and the stories of our patients through advocacy is one of the most critical endeavors of an Endocrinologist.”

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