April 29, 2009, brought to the forefront the vivid and tangible goal of including AOM in U.S. health care reform when President Obama responded to an inquiry by an acupuncturist in one of his town hall meetings: "My attitude is that...we should do what works.I think it is pretty well-documented through scientific studies that acupuncture...can be very helpful in relieving certain ailments, or at least as effective as more intrusive interventions. I think one basic principle that we know is that the more we do on the prevention side, the more we can obtain serious savings down the road."
Obama expects to have a health care reform bill on his desk before the end of the year. The politics surrounding this are vast, but Obama has clearly communicated the entree to our profession. It is therefore key in our legislative responses that we provide the requisite science that substantiates the efficacy of AOM and show its cost savings.
The initial thrust of the AAAOM's legislative initiative has been to facilitate passage of HR 646, the Federal Acupuncture Coverage Act of 2009. HR 646 provides coverage of qualified acupuncturist services under Part B of the Medicare program and provides coverage for such services under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. If passed, HR 646 would immediately provide acupuncture benefits to more than 54 million Americans. We also need to secure our scope of practice, protect ourselves from medical trespassers, institute statutory recognition in every state and establish third-party reimbursement, loan forgiveness, protection for herbs, and credentialing in hospitals. We must place AOM's position in the mainstream of American health care such that we assure the patient's right to choose and access our medicine.
The highly successful fundraising efforts at AAAOM's Expo 2009 in April raised $35,000 in cash and committed monthly donations in only two hours during the annual banquet. This was an extraordinary feat, yet it represents only the beginning of our fundraising efforts. This supports the activities of our D.C. lobbyist, Sam Brunelli, while the AAAOM develops a "sustainable" three-year fundraising and national advocacy plan. AAAOM's fundraising committee has developed a year-one goal of $500,000. This article focuses primarily on the components in the fundraising strategies.
Sustainability: Programs that are sustainable ensure that both immediate and long-term needs can be met. It is critical that the inherent skills, tools, and infrastructure are available within the organization to facilitate and manage the fundraising plan. The plan is designed to be system-dependent so that changes in personnel pose minimal threat to continuity. The plan's flow of funds are designed to meet current needs equal to building the long-term asset/resource base of the AAAOM and the profession. A sustainable plan is enhanced by generating a diversity of funding sources such as charitable business and grant funding.
Fluidity: An inherent fact of business is that life is constantly changing. To meet fluctuating consumer demands, political landscapes, leadership changes, community dynamics, and educational and research advancements, a plan must continually generate a steady flow of funds that can adapt to these changing needs and environments. A good example is that charitable giving has dried up significantly in the current economy such that an effective fundraising plan must draw from new resources. There must also be clear measures of success and feedback loops that allow for a constant flow of information, ideas and improvements. Refinements can then be made not only in the approach to the flow of funds, but to changing needs or operational infrastructure that support the plan.
Holistic Diversity: Most funding sources are designed to meet specific needs. Therefore, a diversity of funding sources are required to meet the complexity of needs required to support the many activities of the AOM profession. Grant funds for the most part are restricted, where very specific programmatic and compliance requirements must be met. Diversification is essential to protect the AAAOM against economic or political shifts that can cause existing funding sources to diminish or be cut entirely. This is self-evident in the funding cuts that are daily news in this current economic recession.
Grassroots/Grasstops Efforts: Grassroots lobbying provides for stakeholder groups to come forward in support of a position. Examples would be letter-writing or telephone trees in support of HR 646, which is key to influencing policy and legislative outcomes. The AOM patient community has unique needs that are met by practitioners, and it is our grassroots lobbying that provides both factual and personal experience. After all, it is the constituents that vote their legislators into office. Knowledge of the key decision-makers and what influences them is another critical factor. Both fundraising and grassroots advocacy grow in strength in their proximity to each other.
Likewise, "grasstops advocacy" provides communications to and from prominent individuals, community leaders and key decision-makers. The emphasis of grassroots lobbying tends to be on quantity; the emphasis of grasstops advocacy is on quality. A grassroots and grasstops plan is essential from the standpoint of a diversified approach in fundraising and lobbying.
Independent/Interdependent Functionality: It is believed that one gives up independent rights in interdependent activities. However, our independent strength actually flourishes in interdependent environments, as shared knowledge and resources heighten the performance of both. Thus our advocacy efforts are strengthened by the diversity of AOM involvement (e.g., practitioners, patients, students, state and national organizations, schools, administrators and the business community). The success of the AOM fundraising plan is for its key elements to function both independently and interdependently, and for advocacy and fundraising to integrate this independent/interdependent functionality.
Offensive Strategy: For far too long, our profession has been in a reactionary mode. It is time to go beyond defending to leading, where evidence charts the course of our future and our legislative progress. An example of this would be the herbal safety database, which generates reports that reveal the number of adverse events per multiples of doses administered. Such reports are used to justify noninterference against unreasonable constraints on traditional Chinese herbs and the science of herbology. Parallel to this example, the AAAOM's integrative, cross-directional fundraising and advocacy plans provide a systemic approach that will generate diversity and flexibility within our resource base. This will give us an agile response to the legions of complexities and demands we will face as mainstream providers in the U.S. health care system.
Educational: All activity generates and supports awareness for AOM: between state leaderships responsible for expanding and protecting scopes of practice; leadership and legislators; practitioners and legislators; practitioners and patients; and students and leadership. AAAOM's operational infrastructure will bridge educational and research institutions, national organizations and practitioner-developed research via AAAOM's Action Corp. Databases will house our profession's expanding store of knowledge hat can be accessed to lead the profession into the mainstream of U.S. health care.
System Integration: Finally, a critical component of any fundraising plan development strategy is the integration of human and technological systems. We as individuals form and build relationships, conduct business, advance science, education or clinical outcomes, and influence legislation and policy. However, it is technology that supports these activities, creates historical records, provides access to information, analyzes and assesses outcomes, and provides conduits for interactive input and feedback loops. Both must work hand-in-hand to succeed, and both are essential to the healthy and beneficial outcomes of all endeavors.
As Michael Taromina so aptly stated in his keynote presentation at Expo 2009, "AOM offers the country the most compelling solution to our health care crisis. AOM is this country's largest, most valuable, untapped medical resource because it is safe, effective, preventive and readily available. It is a medical model proven to increase health and reduce costs. Every day, each AOM practitioner changes lives. This country needs our profession, and now your profession needs your help."
Deborah Lincoln is president of the AAAOM and president emeritus of the Michigan Association of Oriental Medicine. Her education in Western and Chinese medicine spans more than 39 years. She has been in private practice in acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and Oriental medicine for more than 26 years in Lansing, Mich.