SAFE Step Act. Sherry’s story impacts Legislators

Florida team on Capitol Hill

Tampa Bay area residents share personal perspective on national legislative issues with Florida’s congressional lawmakers in Washington, D.C

Tampa Bay Beaches, FL (October 24, 2022) – A recent trip to Washington, D.C. sponsored by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) to take part in their annual Advocates for Arthritis event, afforded two local residents a unique opportunity.

Sandra Boulton and Sherry Duquet, co-owners of Madeira Beach Yoga and board members of the Arthritis Foundation Florida, volunteered their time along with two medical specialists.  Rheumatologists Robert Levin of Safety Harbor, FL and Ekaterina Simikova of Jupiter, FL rounded out Florida’s state advocacy team that met with national leaders about bi-partisan healthcare legislation on September 20, 2022.

Headed to meetings on the Hill

Duquet in foreground follows fellow team members on way to first meeting of the morning

The purpose of the trip was to encourage political leaders to support legislation that would improve patient access and address challenges rheumatology patients often face by sharing expert medical perspective and patient personal experience with common obstacles this pending legislation would alleviate.

“This event is an excellent opportunity for rheumatology advocates, both patients and physicians to connect with their members of Congress and discuss the policy issues impacting patient care,” said Dr. Blair Solow, Chair of ACR’s Government Affairs Committee. “We look forward to continued collaboration with lawmakers on policy solutions that increase access to rheumatology care, minimize drug costs to patients and help more of their constituents live longer, healthier lives.”

Walking through tunnels in House Buildings

Boulton in foreground, Duquet and fellow team members walking through tunnels between House meetings

One of the Advocates for Arthritis meetings was with the office of United States Representative Gus Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th congressional district which includes Pasco County, parts of north Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey, Dade City and Zephyrhills.

Duquet, who has rheumatoid arthritis, outlined her experience with Representative Bilirakis’ senior aides.

“My healthcare insurance company sets guidelines that require me to first fail multiple medications before they will pay for the prescription my rheumatologist preferred even though my physician assessed that more advanced, biologic treatments would be more effective in curtailing my disease,” said Duquet. “Because of my insurance company’s step therapy guidelines, I had to wait 12 months before my physician could prescribe the medication she knew would best help me.

These guidelines requiring patients to first fail insurer-preferred medications are called “step therapy,” and according to Duquet, they exacerbated the level of pain she experienced while the disease progressed, and she endured side effects of prior medications that she was required to fail first.

This step therapy process that insurance companies require is the focus of the SAFE Step Act, HR. 2163/ S.  464.  In brief, the pending legislation would allow physicians to request timely exceptions from the insurance companies for some patients to skip the steps and be able to prescribe more effective medications without extensive delays.

Fellow team member Boulton added, “Representative Bilirakis signed on as a co-sponsor of this bill in July of this year. His aides described the importance of Sherry’s story as another tool to add to their conversations with fellow congressional leaders who have not yet supported the legislation.”

In addition to the Safe Step Act, Florida team members addressed the HELP CoPays Act H.R.5801 while meeting with a total of five congressional leaders that day. Those included Representative Bilirakis, Representative Brian Mast, Representative Neal Dunn, M.D. and Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

Reflecting on the experience, Duquet said, “The ACR gave us an opportunity to share our voices with congressional leaders in a way I never imagined personally doing. It made me feel empowered to be a part of the process and speak on behalf of many others with chronic illnesses like me. I encourage everyone to reach out to their respective leaders and ask for their support.”

According to the CDC, nearly 60 million Americans are affected by arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, including nearly 4.5 million Floridians.  For information about managing arthritis, donating or volunteering for arthritis, contact the Arthritis Foundation, Florida at

About Madeira Beach Yoga

Madeira Beach Yoga provides classes 6 days weekly for all-levels of yogis, beginner through experienced. Instructors are skilled in providing yoga available for anyone to enjoy, especially on the beach.   Yoga is offered in three unique settings, on the beach at Archibald Park, on the Patio and in the Studio, both overlooking Boca Ciega Bay, located in the Madeira Beach Recreation Center campus. Class schedule, events, pricing and more online

About the American College of Rheumatology

Founded in 1934, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is a not-for-profit, professional association committed to advancing the specialty of rheumatology that serves over 7,700 physicians, health professionals, and scientists worldwide. In doing so, the ACR offers education, research, advocacy and practice management support to help its members continue their innovative work and provide quality patient care. Rheumatology professionals are experts in the diagnosis, management and treatment of more than 100 different types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases.

About the Arthritis Foundation, Florida

The Arthritis Foundation is fighting for all people who live with arthritis. As a Champion of Yes, it’s the Arthritis Foundation’s mission to turn the obstacles arthritis causes into opportunities. The Arthritis Foundation champions life-changing solutions and medical advancements, and it also provides ways for people to connect, break down barriers in health care and join the fight for a cure — uniting hearts, minds and resources to change the future of arthritis. To join the fight to cure arthritis, visit

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