By

Headache on the Hill 2020

On Tuesday, I attended my first Headache on the Hill advocacy event in Washington, DC. It was an inspiring, educational experience where I learned a bit more about how our country works. I was one of 174 advocates who sought to get co-sponsors for a bill that would increase the number of residencies for people who treat addiction and pain disorder. We also asked for an amendment to the existing bill to increase fellowship funding so more people can train as headache specialists. We represented 45 different states and visited 255 offices of Congress members.

TeamArizona at Headache on the Hill 2020: Jenn Tingwald, Amy Tees, Don Vanderpool, Jamie Valendy, Kerrie Smyres, and Amaal Starling

TeamArizona at Headache on the Hill 2020: Jenn Tingwald, Amy Tees, Don Vanderpool, Jamie Valendy, Kerrie Smyres, and Amaal Starling

What is Headache on the Hill?

Headache on the Hill is an annual event where people who are affected by headache disorders visit the offices of their state senators and representatives with a specific “ask” to improve the lives of people with headache disorders. The ask is different each year and it’s tailored to specific activities in Congress or needs in the headache community.

The first Headache on the Hill, in 2007, was entirely healthcare providers. This year, about 70% of the participants were people who live with headache disorders or our loved ones who wanted to advocate for us. All six of us on TeamArizona have migraine and two are also healthcare providers, which was a great mix.

What We Asked For

The Opioid Workforce Act is a bill currently in both the House in the Senate that seeks to increase funding for more training programs in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain medicine. We asked for co-sponsors for the bill and also asked for an amendment to the bill to include fellowships. The bill is currently written only for residencies, but pain medicine (and headache medicine) are fellowships, not residencies. We also asked that they specifically include headache medicine residencies in the bill, since they have different training programs than pain specialists do.

How You Can Help

Even if you didn’t attend Headache on the Hill, you can help by reaching out to your senators and representatives about the Opioid Workforce Act (which is H.R.3414 in the House and S.2892 in the Senate). First, check to see if they have already co-sponsored the bill (check here for representatives co-sponsoring H.R.3414 and here for senators co-sponsoring S.2892). If they have co-sponsored, please thank them for doing so and tell them how important it is to you. If not, please ask them to co-sponsor the bill. You can also ask them to amend the error in the language to include pain medicine and headache medicine fellowships (rather than residencies), but you can skip that part if it feels too hard to explain (I got training on it and it was still hard to explain!).

You can find your representatives and senators here. Calling is probably the easiest approach, but research shows that a personalized postal letter or personalized email are more effective than a phone call. Given that “personalized” is a key component of the effectiveness of the letter or email, I don’t have prewritten wording for you. My recommendation is to start with the “ask” and then tell them why it’s important to you. Be sure to include your address in the letter so they know you’re a constituent.

If you call, know that you’ll likely reach voicemail, so if you have anxiety about talking to a stranger on the phone, know that you probably won’t! Be sure to leave your zip code so they know you’re a constituent. I always add my full address at the very end of the voicemail, just in case.

Join Me Next Year!

Join me in 2021 to advocate for headache disorders in your state! Follow the Alliance for Headache Disorders advocacy on Facebook or Twitter to learn when the applications for next year open, which is usually in November. There is an application form to fill out and not everyone is accepted—it’s based on which states and areas within each state need representation—but please don’t be intimidated by the application form. You don’t need to have a social media presence or a history of advocacy to be able to participate, but it’s good information for them to have, so they ask for it.

A caveat: Headache on the Hill is the largest patient advocacy group without a corporate sponsor that does lobbying events like this. That means both that there’s no corporate intervention in the message (which is great!) and that it’s done on a shoestring (which can be a challenge for some patients who want to participate). Participants’ hotel rooms are covered for at least one night and usually a couple meals are covered, too. You’ll need to cover transportation to and from Washington, D.C., some of your meals (I brought a lot of nonperishable food and found a grocery store nearby), and for extra nights at the hotel. It’s a commitment, but it’s an incredible experience if you can do it. I honestly can’t count how many people have told me that attend Headache on the Hill was life-changing for them.

By

Oxygen for Cluster Headache: Ask Your Senator to Sign!

A few hours remain to ask your senator to sign the letter requesting Medicare to reconsider covering oxygen for cluster headache! Please take 60 seconds to do so: just follow this link. The deadline for senators to sign has been extended to tomorrow, Thursday, May 22 at 5 p.m. ET.

The following senators have already signed on:

  • Coons (D-DE)
  • Johanns (R-NE)
  • Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Durbin (D-IL)
  • Tester (D-MN)
  • Warren (D-MA)
  • Markey (D-MA)
  • Fischer (R-NE)
  • Merkley (D-OR)
  • Manchin (D-WV)
  • Pryor (D-AR)

Several more are on the verge of signing, but need a little encouragement. Please make your voice heard — it will literally take a minute to improve the lives of people who are severely disabled by this horrendously painful headache disorder.

By

An Urgent Request for Cluster Headache Treatment

Oxygen is one of the few effective cluster headache treatments, a viciously painful headache disorder that can be disabling. Several years ago, Medicare decided to stop covering it for cluster patients. The American Headache Society appealed to no avail. Now, Nebraska Senator Johanns and Delaware Senator Coons are trying to get the decision reversed and are currently circulating a letter for other senators to sign. The more senators who sign the letter, the higher the chance of success.

Please contact your senator TODAY to ask them to sign the letter requesting that Medicare reconsider covering oxygen for cluster headache treatment. And I do mean today — senators must sign the letter before 5 p.m. ET on Monday, May 19 Thursday, May 22. All you have to do is follow this link, fill out the form and click “submit.” The next page lists your senators as recipients and has a letter already written. You can edit the letter, if you’d like, or just add your name at the bottom and click “submit.” That’s it. I just did it and it literally took less than a minute.

Even if you don’t have cluster headache, please submit a request in the spirit of solidarity. Any recognition of the severity of any headache disorder and improving access to treatment is a win for all of us.

5/19/14: The deadline for senators to sign has been extended from today to Thursday. If you haven’t submitted your comment, you still have time! As of 8 p.m. ET today, nine senators have agreed to sign the letter.

By

Your Five Minutes Could Increase NIH Funding for Headache Research

Urge your US House of Representatives member to support increasing the National Institutes of Health’s headache research funding by sending this pre-written e-mail no later than Monday, March 17. That’s all that’s required, though you are encouraged to include a personal note on how headache disorders affect you.

According to the National Headache Foundation, “NIH grants for migraine total approximately $13M per year, representing less than .05% of the total NIH budget. Very little headache research apart from migraine is funded and the NIH has no institute, center, or study section wholly devoted to pain, let alone headache disorders.”

This letter from the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy has details on the initiative:

AHDA Congressional Action Alert: Increase NIH funding for Headache Research

Dear AHDA advocates –

Well, the key moment has arrived for you to contact your Member of the US House of Representatives to take action for increasing NIH research for headache disorders.

A Dear Colleague letter was sent Monday, March 10, by Representatives Peter Welch and James Moran to all House offices, urging all Members of the House to co-sign a letter to Representatives David Obey and James Walsh. The Obey/Walsh letter requests inclusion of language that supports headache research to be appended to the FY09 appropriations bill for NIH. (For details, see the AHDA homepage.)

The more Representatives that co-sign the Obey/Walsh letter, the greater are the chances that the language will be included. The Obey/Walsh letter must be submitted with signatures by 3/19. This unfortunate deadline was a late-breaking surprise for us, so we have little more than a week to get as many signatures as possible. Please use the space below to compose your message to your Representative and urge her/him to co-sign the Obey/Walsh letter now.

We are also working on a Senate Dear Colleague letter right now and we will let you know when the time is right for you to contact your Senators too.

Through collective advocacy we will improve the care for individuals with headache disorders. Thanks very much for your help.

Best regards to you all,

Bob

Robert Shapiro, MD, PhD; Burlington, Vermont
William Young, MD; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Brad Klein, MD, MBA; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Teri Robert, PhD; Washington, West Virginia