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November 4, 2019

My day on Capitol Hill

AGA member Dr. Richard Sterling (center) presents with two patient advocates on the key drivers of liver cancer to congressional staff during liver cancer awareness month.
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By: Richard K. Sterling, MD, MSc, FACP, FACG, FAASLD, AGAF
Professor of Medicine
Chief of Hepatology, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia
Vice-Chair, AGA Liver Biliary Section, DDW Council

When initially asked to represent AGA on Capitol Hill for the Global Liver Institute (GLI) congressional briefing on liver cancer and the LIVER Act on Oct. 31, I felt both honored and somewhat frightened. Honored that AGA thought enough of me as a hepatologist to represent them and frightened, not because it was Halloween, but because I would be speaking to members of Congress and their staff on issues that may impact policy and thousands if not millions of Americans. Along with myself, were Donna Cryer, founder and CEO of the GLI, John Groopman, an epidemiologist from Johns Hopkins focusing on liver disease, and two patients with liver disease who had a compelling story to tell. In addition, our briefing and Capitol Hill advocacy day included patients with a history of liver cancer and members of the Hepatitis B Foundation.  

(From left to right: Andrew Scott, director of policy for the Global Liver Institute, Richard Sterling, MD, AGAF, and Tony Villiotti, president of NASH KNOWledge)

In preparation, Andrew Scott from the GLI helped me in identifying the target audience and in developing slides to present to Congress members and their aides that would show those at risk for liver cancer, the increasing incidence of the disease and the importance of diagnosis at an early stage when curative treatment options are readily available. Travel and hotel logistics were taken care of by Kathleen Teixeira and AGA staff, and it was comforting to see them in the audience.  

The briefing took place in the Cannon office building and was standing room only. After a brief introduction by Andrew Scott, I was the first speaker followed by our patient advocates and Dr. Groopman. The LIVER Act (H.R. 3016) is sponsored by Congresswomen Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and would drive several public health initiatives that would help people of all ages, lifestyles, and ethnic backgrounds to reduce their risk for liver cancer and related illnesses by enhancing the federal government’s prevention, education, and disease surveillance capabilities while empowering local entities to promote treatment and raise awareness. It also supports increased funding to both the CDC and NIH for liver disease and liver cancer research.

(From left to right: Richard Sterling, MD, AGAF, and 
Donna Cryer, founder and CEO of GLI )

We had plenty of time for questions from the audience and I saw a lot of nodding from many present acknowledging that they had friends or family who had liver disease. Although our briefing was happening at the same time as the vote on formalizing the impeachment inquiry (you can hear the buzzing going off and the red lights flashing that the vote was about to happen; see Facebook; HepBFoundation video), congressional staff did not leave. 

After the meeting, the patient advocates along with members of the GLI, Hepatitis B Foundation and others met one-on-one with additional members of congress and their staff. While on the train home, I had time to reflect on the day and hoped that our message would be advanced through congress. AGA, along with our sister societies (AASLD and ACG) are our voice and advocates for advancing legislation through congress. Days like today allow our members to get involved. It is an exciting way  to help our congressional representatives take action on what matters most to us: improved patient care, supporting research, promoting education and reducing the overall burden to accomplish these important goals.  

While some say Virginia is for Lovers, I say Virginia is for Livers (#LoveYourLiver).  For more on this and the Liver Biliary Council offerings at DDW, follow me on twitter (@RichSterlingMD).

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