September 2019


Legislative Fly-In participants weigh in on the importance of advocacy

by Tami O’Brien ASCRS Manager of PAC and Grassroots


From left: Dr. Mamalis, Sen. Rand Paul, MD
(R-KY), and ASCRS Government Relations
Committee Chair Parag Parekh, MD

From left: Dr. Serafano, Chris Wallace, journalist and host of Fox News Sunday, and ASCRS Government Relations Committee member Ken Rosenthal, MD

From left: Dr. Tipperman, Dr. Mamalis, two MDs from other specialties, Government Relations Committee Chair Parag Parekh, MD, and ASCRS member Bennett Chotiner, MD

Dr. Hewitt arrives at the office of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

Dr. Shah arrives at the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN, center) meets with Dr. Kilgore (left) and another member of the Alliance of Specialty Medicine.
Source (all): ASCRS


In July, more than 40 ASCRS and ASOA members representing 25 states attended the 2019 Alliance of Specialty Medicine Legislative Fly-In and directly engaged in one of the three pillars of the ASCRS mission: advocacy. The annual conference brings together 15 national medical specialty societies that make up the Alliance to Washington, D.C., to lobby for key policy priorities. Attendees meet with their senators and representatives on Capitol Hill to outline important issues and ask them to take action.
This year’s Fly-In included five ASCRS residents who attended via the fourth annual ASCRS Young Eye Surgeons (YES) Legislative Fly-In Scholarship Program, designed to enhance residents’ understanding of issues affecting ophthalmology and provide networking opportunities with established ASCRS members, including leadership. Attendees included ASCRS President Nick Mamalis, MD, ASCRS Vice President/President-Elect Terry Kim, MD, and ASOA President-Elect Deborah Davis, COE.
This year’s lobbying priorities included urging Congress to maintain a viable fee-for-service option in Medicare Part B; extending positive physician payment updates to the Medicare physician payment conversion factor, as well as 5% bonus payments for participation in advanced APMs; improving the Quality Payment Program to ensure opportunities and adequate incentives for specialists; and addressing various barriers to specialty care, including prior authorization and step therapy. During meetings with legislators and their aides, Fly-In attendees outlined these issues and shared personal anecdotes to illustrate how healthcare policy affects their practices and patients.
Fly-In attendees also heard from an impressive line-up of speakers, including Reps. Raul Ruiz, MD (D-CA), Ami Bera, MD (D-CA), Lauren Underwood, MSN, (D-IL), John Joyce, MD (R-PA), Mark Green, MD (R-TN), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Sens. Rand Paul, MD (R-KY), and Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), and Chris Wallace, award-winning journalist and host of Fox News Sunday.
Members who are interested in attending next year or getting involved in grassroots advocacy efforts should contact Tami O’Brien, ASCRS manager of PAC and grassroots, at or 703-591-2220.

Nick Mamalis, MD

The Fly-In is a great example of ASCRS advocacy efforts for its members. It is critical that our voices be heard in Washington regarding issues important to our specialty. Members of Congress from both parties spoke to attendees during the conference, and more importantly, they answered our questions. We then met with our individual representatives and senators and their healthcare staffers to discuss issues important to ophthalmology, such as preservation of a fee-for-service option and relief from prior authorization. These meetings are critical to advocate for our profession.

Richard Tipperman, MD

I’ve been a proud member of ASCRS for more than 25 years, and I never realized how valuable the advocacy portion and the Fly-In are for
ASCRS members. I always knew about the Fly-In, but for reasons many are familiar with—family, time away from work—I didn’t participate. I think everyone realizes that with all the changes occurring in healthcare, being involved in advocacy is critical, but for many, like myself, there’s a feeling that “someone else will take care of it.” Once my wife and I became “empty nesters,” I started attending the Fly-In and quickly realized how, in many ways, having a group that advocates for concerns specific to ASCRS members is probably the most important benefit of my ASCRS membership. For those who participate in ASCRS’ legislative endeavors, the support and training you receive to lobby on behalf of anterior segment surgeons on Capitol Hill is incredible. For those who do not participate, the advocacy ASCRS continually does on your behalf alone is worth two to three times the cost of a yearly membership. When you combine this with the other benefits, it’s clear that membership in ASCRS is the best thing that all practicing anterior segment surgeons can do to ensure the ongoing success of their practice.

Don Serafano, MD

This was my fourth Fly-In, and every year, I become more comfortable with the agenda and how to navigate the territory.
It is important to meet with our senators and representatives to ensure proper patient care options remain available to all patients and preserve a fee-for-service option along with alternative payment models. Our experience as doctors can help ensure that government interventions do not lead to unintended consequences. We can help educate our members of Congress. They need and want us to inform them so they can vote responsibly on health legislation.
By participating in several Fly-Ins, I have become comfortable in the offices of Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, who represents my district in California. I have developed a relationship with both Rep. Lowenthal and his senior legislative assistant Shane Trimmer. Shane recognizes me and welcomes my presentation, which helps him advise the Congressman on how to vote on legislation. While visiting Rep. Lowenthal’s office this year, I requested that he show his support for the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act (H.R. 1963). It was at that time that Shane discovered that he had inadvertently left the Congressman’s name off the cosponsor list. This was immediately corrected.
Although I am toward the end of my career, I am interested in helping the next generation of physicians have the option of practicing medicine as they wish and not be limited by uninformed legislative voting.

Susanne Hewitt, MD

I think it is important to let your members of Congress know that you are out there, on the front lines, treating patients (their constituents). We have dedicated our lives to our patients, and it’s important to have our voices heard. We can speak to many of the day-to-day issues that Congress is not aware of. My message to all ophthalmologists, young and not so young, is that you can get involved. Your voice is important and valued for our patients and our profession.
I was pleased that we were able to meet with the offices of each of our members of Congress, and they seemed genuinely interested in our issues as we helped to raise their awareness further. My hope is that the more visible we are, the more weight our opinions will have on these key issues. I can’t emphasize enough that anyone can do this, and you should do this. A few days away from your practice is doable, and the payoff is having your voice heard. I know I will be corresponding with my elected officials more often in the future and have already invited them to my office.

Manjool Shah, MD

The Fly-In offers ophthalmologists the opportunity to look behind the curtain and get a sense of how decisions are influenced and made at a federal level. While Congress and the federal government don’t dictate everything we do as physicians, decisions made at this level have major ramifications on the practice of medicine and access to care. It’s never too early to begin to appreciate these relationships and the issues at play.
I read up on many of the issues I would be discussing with my Congressional delegation from Michigan, but I was surprised by the warmth and sincerity that I was met with when I visited the offices of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Sen. Gary Peters, and Rep. Debbie Dingell. It was incredibly valuable to know that my opinion matters, and that meetings, letters, and phone calls can make a difference. All three meetings were very productive, and I felt that I was not only being heard but that the information and stories from my practice that I shared with them mattered. The ASCRS legislative priorities were met with support, and we hope that this support will translate to action when the time is right.
Parag Parekh, MD, chair of the ASCRS Government Relations Committee, described the experience of getting to know your representatives as a relationship and that the meetings that we held were like a first date. These are relationships to cultivate, and I hope to continue to do so through the Fly-In and other advocacy activities in the years to come.

Khin Kilgore, MD

This year’s Fly-In was my first direct engagement with the democratic process on the national level as a brand new U.S. citizen. I have found that the legislative process can be a daunting mystery. The legal language is alien, the legal documents are often much longer than a typical scientific article, and there is no handy abstract at the beginning. We read about various policies and issues debated in the news every day, but it can be hard to see how we can affect such a large machine with so many parts. Fortunately, meeting with members of Congress and speaking with other physicians who are seasoned advocates helped me get oriented and understand the roles I can play in shaping the process. I learned that we can be as involved as we would like, from telling our members of Congress what is important to us through words, campaign funds, or votes, to running for office. Regardless of our level of involvement, I think it is critical that we make time to learn about the issues salient to our profession, especially if we are still in training or just starting our professional careers, as our paths remain long and malleable.
During the Fly-In, we had more autonomy than I had expected to express our thoughts with the members of Congress and their staff, who are much more accessible than I had imagined. Though many of us would like both medicine and policy-making to be evidence-based, anecdotes go a long way to influence practitioners in both fields, and I think they are the most important reason for attending the Fly-In.

For more pictures from the 2019 Alliance of Specialty Medicine Legislative Fly-In, be sure to check out EyeWorld on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

About the doctors

Susanne Hewitt, MD
ASCRS Government Relations Committee member
Dunwoody, Georgia

Khin Kilgore, MD
YES scholarship attendee
Rochester, Minnesota

Nick Mamalis, MD
ASCRS president
Salt Lake City

Don Serafano, MD
Los Alamitos, California

Manjool Shah, MD
ASCRS YES Clinical
Committee member
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Richard Tipperman, MD
ASCRS Cataract Clinical
Committee member
Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

Contact information


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