Following is a Q&A to get to know Eric Gascho, Vice President, Policy and Government Affairs, who has been with the NHC since 2009.
Putting Patients First Blog: What drew you to the NHC and patient-centered health policy?
Patient advocacy has been instilled in me since childhood. After losing her sister to cancer and her mother to dementia, my mom began volunteering her (and my) time to various patient organizations, a few of whom are current NHC members. The NHC specifically interested me because I learned very quickly that success in DC comes much easier if you have many organizations, often with competing interests, pulling in the same direction on specific policies. The NHC and our members understand this, which is why we bring diverse organizations together to forge consensus and drive patient-centered health policy.
PPF Blog: What’s your favorite part about working for the NHC?
I absolutely love the breadth and depth of our membership. On any given day, I interact with policy staff from patient organizations, professional societies, insurers, and biopharmaceutical and device companies. Our members are some of the most driven individuals in DC, and they all have a wide range of experiences and expertise. Without them, the NHC would not exist and would not be as effective in the policy landscape as we are with the expertise we leverage.
PPF Blog: What do you believe is the most important policy issue currently being debated on Capitol Hill for patients and patient advocacy organizations?
The most important issue for people with chronic conditions is increasing access to affordable, sustainable, high-value health care. With the decade-plus attack on the Affordable Care Act, our constituents have been under threat to return to the “bad old days” when insurers could deny people based on their pre-existing conditions. Coverage to comprehensive care is #1. Beyond that, health care costs are increasing at an alarming rate. Congress needs to pass patient-centered policies that reduce all of the costs that people pay at the pharmacy counter, doctor’s office, and hospital.
PPF Blog: You’ve been working with the NHC since 2009. What kind of patient-advocacy policy shifts have you noticed over the last decade?
How much time do I have to listen to my answer this question? The policy and political landscapes have radically shifted in the last decade. Perhaps the most astonishing thing has been the public perception of the ACA and its impact on health policy. Shortly after I started at the NHC, opponents successfully campaigned on repealing the ACA. As we saw in 2017 and 2018, these dynamics flipped. Now, supporting protections for people with pre-existing conditions is politically imperative. While this is a welcomed development, it is dependent on patient advocates to ensure that policymakers know which policies will best meet the needs of people with chronic diseases and disabilities.
PPF Blog: How can patients and patient advocates get more involved in the policy making process and why is their involvement important?
As impactful as I like to think my colleagues and I are, we are nothing without our constituents. Almost any legislative success we have had in my decade-plus in patient advocacy came because of the involvement of people with chronic diseases and disabilities. Whether it be through fly-in events, grassroots calls-to-action, or sharing patient stories, Members of Congress care most about how bills they vote on will impact real people in their communities.
PPF Blog: What are you working on currently?
The NHC’s policy portfolio is expansive. Some of the top issues that I spend most of my time on are: tackling high health care costs; increasing access and coverage; and FDA regulatory issues such as patient engagement in medical product development.
PPF Blog: Tell us about a hobby of yours outside of work.
Anyone who has spent more than 30 minutes with me probably knows that I am a huge sports fan. Despite living in DC since 2006, I have maintained my Southern California-rooting interests in the Dodgers, Kings, Lakers, and Trojans. I’m also a massive fan of the US national soccer teams and have followed them across the country and as far as Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. I also pitch for a recreational softball team and have a love for travel, especially travel that involves snowboarding and SCUBA diving.