April 08, 2020

My ACR Rutherford-Lavanty Fellowship Experience

By Jesse Conyers, MD, a PGY-5 radiology resident at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

In February 2020, I had the honor and privilege of participating in the Rutherford-Lavanty Fellowship in Government Relations, through generous sponsorship by the ACR and the Texas Radiological Society. This fellowship allowed me to spend a week in Washington, D.C., during which time I worked closely with the amazing ACR government relations team as well as state and federal legislators to actively participate in policy issues affecting patient care and radiology.

At the beginning of my Rutherford week, I was briefed by the ACR government relations team on current healthcare policy issues. Most notably, the ACR team educated me on surprise medical billing legislation — this was a hot topic throughout the week because there were two House committee congressional markups scheduled to address “rival” bills on surprise billing (specifically, H.R. 5800 Ban Surprise Billing Act and H.R. 5826 Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act). Surprise billing legislation protects patients from unanticipated medical bills for emergency and out-of-network services. Additionally, this legislation generally creates a dispute resolution, or arbitration, process between providers and insurers if there is a dispute in payment for services provided. This legislation — which is supported by many physician groups, including the ACR — is intended to protect patients from unanticipated medical bills. It also creates a complex dispute resolution process which requires a balanced approach between doctors and insurers, and has resulted in multiple legislative bills addressing issues of rate-setting and reimbursement. This issue is particularly relevant during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, as there is growing concern that testing and treatment for COVID-19 could result in significant surprise medical bills for these patients. As a Rutherford fellow, I participated in several discussions and meetings about the effects of this legislation on radiology, and even got to attend the congressional markups on Capitol Hill!

In addition to providing more in-depth education about current legislation, my Rutherford experience gave me multiple opportunities to discuss these current policy issues with other physician groups and members of Congress. I attended multiple roundtable discussions, receptions on Capitol Hill, and fundraising events, and discussed with Congress members how these legislative issues directly affect patients, physicians, and radiology. I met with several members of Congress who were previously or are currently physicians, which I found particularly enlightening given their unique experience in healthcare. When I asked one of the physician Congressmen why he chose to run, he explained that he’d always wanted to be an advocate for patients and physicians, remarking, “I feel like this is the definition of democracy — to have a Congress composed of people from all different backgrounds and specialties, representing the people.”

My Rutherford experience was overall an incredible opportunity to actively participate in healthcare policy and federal legislation as a resident, and I am extremely grateful to the ACR government relations team for their time and dedication to supporting radiology. I would highly recommend this opportunity to any radiology resident looking to gain experience in government relations!