SMA Healthcare’s CEO, Ivan Cosimi, participated in Hill Day 2019 in Washington D.C. last week, and sat down for a Q&A to discuss his experience.
Generally speaking, what is (or was) Hill Day?
Hill Day is a day that occurs once a year where professionals from the behavioral health field descend on Washington D.C. and advocate for issues that directly impact the industry. As a member of a national trade association (National Council for Behavioral Health), we bring others who have been impacted by a behavioral health issue. Individuals from every walk of life join us– could be a patient, family member, a CEO, politician, e.g. anybody impacted by national policy – and get them to advocate for those specific issues.
Why is Hill Day necessary or important?
It all comes down to relationships, and this is an opportunity to work with our legislators, educate them and get them to know SMA a little more. It also lets them know the details of the laws that they are reviewing and let them know the impact of the law and what it means for our work here in Florida. For example, if somebody in North Dakota submits a potential law for the entire nation, individuals in Florida may not know what that means for their constituents. That is why it is good for us to go up there and explain why that law would be important.
What is the biggest challenge you face while there?
Anybody who is plugged into the national political environment knows that it is so divided – that is probably the biggest obstacle right now. Consider the discussion around gun violence recently. Politicians have tried to conflate that issue with mental health, which only increases the stigma of mental illness. This is a challenge for us, just knowing that mentally ill are more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. In general, the political environment is an obstacle for us.
However, on the flip side, mental health and substance use seems to be the one issue that people can agree to on a bi-partisan basis, so most of our legislators see it as an issue and know something needs to be done.
What were you able to accomplish while in D.C.?
What we accomplished was getting each representative to hear a consistent message on the five things we were trying to get done while in D.C. I was part of the Florida delegation that went – there were about 20 of us. We visited all 27 House of Representatives staff and our two Senators. Each contingent was responsible for visiting representatives that covered their area. That’s important because, as I mentioned, having those relationships is crucial. When a representative comes back to Palatka, for example, they will remember I was there pushing those national-level policies and can connect the dots and know that SMA can be a resource for them when it comes to tackling these issues.
What can we hope to see in the coming months?
What are we hoping to have happen? Well, we brought five major issues to Hill Day and are hoping for some or all of them to pass. All of these items have impact to the federal budget, and we are trying to educate them about those impacts and what we are experiencing.
Do you have any additional thoughts about your experience?
I love being able to advocate for the services we provide at SMA. I believe that when delivered in the manner that SMA is accustomed to, we can make our communities better. More importantly, by participating in Hill Day, I believe that I can advocate for those who don’t have the opportunity to do so. Hill Day gives me unique perspective. This was the biggest Hill Day in National Council history, so there were a lot of folks there and I felt like we had power in numbers. It was a good experience, and I look forward to seeing if our efforts will help to move our industry forward to serve more.