Let’s be clear here: Political action committees (PACs) are a good thing. Whether or not you like the concept, they create an opportunity for more people to be involved in the political process.
Contributions by PACs have increased dramatically over the last decade. In 2020 nearly $500 million were donated to political campaigns. Given the magnitude of monies involved there is certainly some expectation that political donations will return some yield of political influence. Understanding the rationale of PAC donations, there are two main ways they are utilized: 1. The PAC hopes to influence the course of legislation by educating legislators on why they should take a specific action on a piece of legislation, such as co-sponsorship or voting for legislation when it is considered in committee or for passage. 2. The PAC provides campaign contributions to those running for election who support the issues by having articulated policy positions that concern PAC members.
Patterns of PAC distributions tend to be directly proportional to elected officials’ influence on Capitol Hill. You need only look at the key members of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, who receive the largest proportion of PAC donations, to appreciate PACs’ role in affecting the legislative process (see opensecrets.org).
There are 112 physician PACs, which gave $21 million in 2019–2020. While some of these PACs share common legislative interests, such as the relief from Prior Authorization requirements, there are a multitude of different legislative priorities for all of these groups. It is important for the SVS to have a voice in this element of the education process with members of Congress who sit on committees with jurisdiction over healthcare policy issues.
In our time being associated with the SVS PAC, it has become apparent that we will have greater influence on Capitol Hill with more direct engagement of our elected officials.
To that end, the Society for Vascular Surgery PAC (SVS PAC) and its committee, the SVS Government Relations and the SVS Advocacy and Policy Council have engaged in a tour-de-force advocacy campaign to bring the SVS legislative agenda front and center to our elected officials. During the 2019–2020 election cycles, the SVS PAC represented the SVS at nearly 25 events with members of Congress. We are on target to match or exceed that number in just the first six months of the 2021–2022 election cycle.
SVS members representing 13 states recently met with Reps. Dr. Kim Schrier (D-Washington), Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin), Stephen Horsford (D-Nevada) and Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), to discuss numerous legislative priorities for vascular surgeons. SVS members engaged in a spirited dialogue with these officials, reviewing many of the hurdles that we as vascular surgeons face in the politics of medicine as well as discussing lawmakers’ perspective from Capitol Hill. The takeaway was pretty clear—effective political influence only works if you have good advocacy. It’s not all about the donations, but PAC donations do bring opportunity
Legislative priorities discussed included protecting patients’ timely access to care, prior authorization reform, holding physicians harmless from Medicare cuts, stopping the practice of surprise billing, support for increasing the number of residency positions, support for telemedicine, increasing physician/surgeon wellness, and educating them on the breadth and value of vascular surgery.
While having a PAC is an important tool for advocacy efforts, grassroots actions where SVS members contact their lawmakers are also critical. Having large numbers of SVS members respond to our call for help last year in contacting lawmakers was a big reason the Medicare cuts were halted for 2021. To that end, the SVS PAC, Government Relations Committee and the Policy and Advocacy Council are sponsoring a Washington, D.C., virtual fly-in event on July 21, as part of a concentrated Grassroots Advocacy Week.
This virtual event will match and connect 40 to 50 SVS members with their respective members of Congress for direct and frank conversations about the challenges vascular surgeons faced in 2020 and looming obstacles we will face going forward in 2021 and 2022. Advocacy is key, but it is a volume game; we can’t do it alone. Please consider making a donation to the SVS PAC (visit vsweb.org/PAC) and marking your calendars for the week of July 19 to participate in our week of grassroots action to give the SVS the strongest voice possible in the nation’s capital.
Peter H. Connolly, MD, and Mark A. Mattos, MD, are co-chairs of the SVS Political Action Steering Committee.