What happens if radiation oncologists are left out of the conversation? The possibilities are endless, but through ASTRO’s annual Advocacy Day, we, as physicians, have the opportunity to bring the issues that affect our profession and our patients directly to members of Congress and their staff. Despite the political turmoil on Capitol Hill, Advocacy Day is an opportunity to make sure that the issues that face us every day remain at the forefront of Congress’ mind. It is important that we continue to have a dialogue with our lawmakers so that we can ensure the stability of radiation therapy as a treatment option for cancer patients.
If you have never participated in Advocacy Day before, we welcome your participation. On Monday, June 25, you will hear from ASTRO staff and government insiders about what ASTRO members’ current legislative priorities are and how to best advocate for them. You will get the information you need to confidently advocate for radiation oncology. Panels will include bipartisan Capitol Hill staffers from the offices of our Congressional champions: Rep. Paul Tonko (D-New York), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina).
Another panel will include Ellen Lukens from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Office of Innovation (CMMI). Last year, the possibility of a Radiation Oncology Alternative Payment Method (RO-APM) was introduced at Advocacy Day. This year, Lukens will sit on a panel and offer insights into the status of alternative payment models (APMs). This discussion will be especially enlightening because of her work on the Oncology Care Model.
The next day, Tuesday, June 26, we will attend House and Senate meetings with other radiation oncology professionals who are from our home states. At these meetings, you’ll put into action everything you learned the day before. We will meet with a mix of Congressional staff and members of Congress.
At last year’s Advocacy Day, many members of Congress and staffers asked for more information so they could continue to learn more about our legislative priorities. One of the topics we spoke about was preserving access to care through stable Medicare payments. The Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (PAMPA) was designed to provide stability in reimbursements during the transition to a system focused on quality. During our meetings, we called attention to the issue of radiation oncology reimbursement rates and let members of Congress and their staff know that it is important to our profession and, more importantly, to continuing the access to radiation therapy as a safe and effective treatment option for cancer patients.
In early 2018, when PAMPA and its associated rates were set to expire, Congress worked to secure a one-year extension on the payment freeze. This would not have been possible without ASTRO members starting this important conversation during 2017 Advocacy Day. This was a direct result of our advocacy efforts. In every meeting, we asked members of Congress and their staff to take a tour of radiation oncology facilities in their home districts. This allowed us to show legislators the importance of what we do, so they can make the connection between our work in their voting districts and their work on Capitol Hill.
This is an opportunity for us to elevate our profession. If we do not make our voices heard, we risk the chance of Congress passing legislation that could be harmful to radiation oncologists and our patients. We all know that there are plenty of issues Congress can focus on, but we can ensure that our issues remain a priority for members of the House and Senate by speaking up. Advocacy Day gives us the opportunity to bring those concerns and issues to our members of Congress and their staff. This year, we need to continue to strengthen our relationships with our champions and build new ones with other members.
Day one of Advocacy Day will be held at the Washington Court Hotel, near Capitol Hill. If you have not registered, there is still time to be a part of ASTRO’s 2018 Advocacy Day. Please join me and other health care professionals on June 25-26 for two days of advocating for our profession. You can view the full schedule and learn more about the continuing medical education credits (CMEs) available for attendees.
If you are unable to join us in person, follow along with us on Twitter using the hashtag #astroadvocacy.
Dr. Patel is medical director with Grail Inc., represents ASTRO at the American Medical Association, serves on the Government Relations Committee and recently completed his term as chair of the ASTRO Alternative Payment Reform Subcommittee.