Public Policy & Government Relations Professionals from NHC Member Organizations Engage Virtually at the 2020 Washington Representatives Retreat


By Maddie Mason, Senior Associate, Policy

The National Health Council (NHC) hosted a successful virtual 2020 Washington Representatives Retreat. While we missed seeing our colleagues in Annapolis, MD, for our annual Retreat, we were extremely pleased with the flexibility and adaptation of our colleagues in this current virtual world.  

The Washington Representatives Retreat is an opportunity each year to convene public policy and government relations professionals from NHC member organizations to discuss major policy developments and emerging issues, get input on the NHC’s policy priorities, and network with colleagues. While in person networking was missed this year, we attempted to recreate the experience through or Lunch with the Experts, breakout rooms, and virtual trivia night.  

The Retreat had a different theme each day. Themes included Policy Updates by Issue Area, Communication and Advocacy in the Virtual World and Beyond, and Planning for 2021 and Beyond. We had a wide array of speakers from NHC membership, our partner organizations, Congress, and other expertsCharlie Cook, Editor & Publisher of the Cook Political Report, delivered the Retreat keynote. 

A summary of Retreat sessions follows.  

Protecting Coverage for People with Chronic Diseases  

Nicole Braccio, Policy Director, National Patient Advocacy Foundation, moderated this panel with Stephanie Krenrich, Director, Federal Relations, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Caren Howard, Advocacy Manager, Mental Health AmericaThe panel shared insightful perspectives of what lies ahead for access to coverage for people with chronic diseases and disabilities with a special emphasis on mental health conditions.  

Pharmaceutical and Insurance Industry Perspective on Drug Pricing and the Broader Policy Landscape in 2021  

The NHC’s Interim CEO and Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives Eleanor Perfetto, PhD, MS, moderated this panel with Jenny Bryant, Executive Vice President of Policy and Research, Pharmaceutical Research Manufactures of America (PhRMA), and Sergio SantiviagoVice President of Drug Policy, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)Bryant and Santiviago shared what they believe lies ahead for drug pricing legislation and regulation as well as other issues. While they didn’t hold the same positions on several policy issues, they both agreed that our system is in need of reform, and there are opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.  

Key Media Tips on Effective Communication  

Nan Tolbert, Executive Communications Coach, the Communications Centerpresented on how to best communicate in the virtual world. She also went over techniques on how to better engage your audience and emphasized the importance of knowing your audience to best get and hold their attention. 

Best Practices: Virtual Communications and Grassroots 

The NHC’s Senior Associate, Policy Madison Mason moderated a panel with Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy & Government Affairs, The Trevor Project, and Travis Smith, Director of Government Relations, Lupus Foundation of AmericaIn a virtual world, whave to think more creatively about how we engage our grassroots networks. Brinton and Smith both emphasized the importance of forming partnerships and coalitions. Brinton discussed how The Trevor Project, along with other mental health organizations, worked closely together on the creation of the 988 hotline for mental health emergencies, a monumental accomplishment that will save thousands of lives. Smith discussed how the Lupus Foundation was able to convert so many of their in-person events to virtual formats. Something that so many are still learning to do effectively.  

Hill Perspective on Virtual Advocacy in the Virtual and Post-Pandemic World  

The NHC’s Director, Policy Jennifer Dexter moderated a panel with Conor Sheehey, Deputy Legislative Director, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), and Erin Dugan, Legislative Assistant, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). This panel identified how communications between Hill Staff and advocates has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how things are likely to look the next Congress. Sheehey and Dugan emphasized that each office has adapted to the pandemic differently, and it is important when working with Hill staffers to figure out what each office’s communication preference is before scheduling virtual meetingsThey also discussed how their offices have been overwhelmed since the start of the pandemic, so it is important to give them materials in advance before the meeting to prepare and follow-up.  

Grounding the COVID-19 Dialogue in Science  

The NHC’s Senior Director, Research & Programs Elisabeth Oehrlein, PhD, MS, moderated a panel with Stacie Bell, PhD, Chief Scientific and Medical Officer, National Psoriasis Foundation, and Michelle McMurry-Health, MD, PhD, President and CEO, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). Dr. Bell and Dr. McMurry-Health gave an overview of how to ground the COVID-19 dialogue in science, and how vital it is for science to not become politicized.  

Keynote: Planning for 2021 and Beyond: Post Election Analysis  

Charlie Cook, Editor and Publisher, Cook Political Report, gave a far-reaching overview of the 2020 electionCook discussed the results of the election, its historical context, and what it might mean for future elections. 

Call-to-Action: Re-envisioning Health Equity 

Daneen Sekoni, Director Health Care Policy & Health Care Reform, American Speech Language Hearing Association, moderated a panel with the NHC’s Director, Policy Jennifer Dexter, and Gretchen Wartman, Vice President for Policy and Program, National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF). NMQF has been an outstanding partner with the NHC, as we have come together to address Health Equity. During this panel, Dexter gave an overview of the NHC and NMQF Health Equity Call to Action, the NHC Health Equity Domains & Values that will help guide all our policy work moving forward, and the NHC & NMQF Consensus Statement currently available for signature by NHC member patient group CEOs. Wartman discussed the importance of health equity in the health care system, and how discrimination in the health care system is a vital problem that needs our attention.  

Avalere State of the Union 

Elridge Proctor, Senior Director, Government Affairs, GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, introduced a panel with Matt Kazan, Principle, Avalere Health, and Kelly Brantley, Practice Director, Avalere Health. Kazan and Brantley gave an overview of what could be in store for health care policy in the next Administration and Congress. They discussed the expected priorities of the projected House, Senate, and Administration. As a split government, it is likely that most attention will be focused on administrative actions, but there are opportunities for modest health care legislation in the next two years. 

If you have any questions about the Retreat, please reach out to Maddie Mason at [email protected]