The Maryland and DC Society of Clinical Oncology (MDCSCO) was founded in 1993 as MSCO (Maryland Society of Clinical Oncology) and expanded in 2000 to include Washington, DC. Currently, it serves 185 members, and will embark on a major membership growth initiative this fall. Since 2008, MDCSCO has annually recognized Members of Congress, state legislators, and other decision makers in health care policy—apt for a society that includes oncology professionals in the nation’s capital.
Paul Celano, MD, of the Cancer Center at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and President of MDCSCO, discusses the society’s advocacy efforts in health policy and future initiatives in the following interview.
AC: What are the unique challenges facing local oncology professionals in the Maryland and DC area?
Physician reimbursement rates in Maryland are among the lowest in the nation and there are ongoing regulatory challenges. In recent years, the number of oncologists in private practice has been declining, as many opt for the security and reduced stress of hospital employment. Practices are being bought by hospitals. Fortunately for patients, the Maryland and DC area has a number of fine hospitals, most of them with cancer centers.
AC: When did MDCSCO begin honoring Members of Congress, and what happens at these events?
MDCSCO holds a membership meeting in October of each year. In 2008, we partnered with ASCO to honor a Member of Congress, most recently Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Some years, we honor state legislators or key decision makers in the health care community. The event starts with a reception, followed by dinner and the program. All MDCSCO members and their guests may attend without charge. ASCO leaders are in attendance and are given a spot to speak on the program. The glass award is presented jointly by the MDCSCO president and the ASCO representative in attendance.
AC: How are the honorees chosen?
The honorees are chosen by the MDCSCO Board of Directors. When MDCSCO honors a Member of Congress, this is done collaboratively with ASCO and the Board seeks input from the ASCO legislative affairs staff.
AC: Who have been your recent honorees, and why were they selected?
In 2008, we honored Senator Ben Cardin, and in 2011, we selected Congressman Chris Van Hollen (both of Maryland). Both have long-standing records for supporting legislation to benefit cancer care. In other years, our honorees have been at the state level: Maryland Delegate Shirley Nathan Pulliam and Maryland State Senator Thomas (Mac) Middleton.
AC: Why did MDCSCO decide to focus on health public policy in this way?
MDCSCO has come to realize that much can be accomplished by developing good working relationships with legislators and by saying “thank you” to those legislators who take on the challenges of introducing and championing bills that improve the practice of oncology or the welfare of patients with cancer. At the national level, it is important the our Congressmen understand that their efforts are noticed and appreciated in their home districts.
AC: What other work is MDCSCO doing in advocacy?
MDCSCO has an outstanding lobbyist, Alice Mutch, with Capital Consultants of Maryland. She monitors legislation, but she also looks for potential opportunities for legislation that can be introduced to benefit cancer care. Each year in January, MDCSCO has a legislative dinner and we invite a Maryland legislator or state health care official as our guest speaker. These dinners are always well-attended and result in lively dialogue.
MDCSCO’s goal is to be the “go-to” resource for information on the complexities of cancer care. We are pleased to say that in the 2012 Maryland Legislative Session, MDCSCO led a coalition that was successful in getting an Oral Chemotherapy Parity bill passed.
MDCSCO does not seek out media attention or invite the media to our events, as they are designed to provide opportunities for open dialogue without concern about what might be in the press the next day. We were, however, pleased to be included in the media coverage of the passage of the Oral Chemotherapy Parity bill this past spring.
AC: What are the society’s major plans and priorities for the next year?
MDCSCO, with the help of a Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO State Affiliate Grant, is focusing on membership development. We have restructured our membership so that for $1,000 (for a hospital) or $750 (for a large practice) all oncology professionals in the practice (including nurse navigators, registered nurses, physician assistants, and practice managers, as well as physicians) will be included in the membership. We have developed a database of all of the cancer centers in Maryland and DC and our plan is to approach them one by one. We also have dropped the dues for individual oncologists to $95 and have a special $50 rate for individual practice managers and fellows. We feel confident that this approach will result in exponential membership growth, which will, of course, increase our legislative influence.
This year’s Membership/Awards Dinner will be held at the Center Club in Baltimore on October 24. Our featured speaker will be Lyn Fitzgerald, Vice President of US and Global Development for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN); she will discuss NCCN guidelines. We are also planning to honor a Maryland delegate (to be named soon).
Other events include the January Legislative Dinner at the Annapolis Yacht Club, the Practice Managers’ Meeting in March, the Hot Topics Forum in April, and our ASCO Annual Meeting overview in June (introduced this year to a packed house and rave reviews).
AC: What else should people know about MDCSCO?
MDCSCO is very proud to have created a successful 501(c)3 foundation to assist us in fulfilling the public education component of our mission. While the Foundation has conducted several large public forums on cancer, it is now focusing on smaller programs to be held throughout Maryland and DC. The first prototype program is being held on October 20 at the Heritage Harbor retirement community outside of Annapolis. The Foundation will provide speakers (provided by MDCSCO members from Anne Arundel Health System) for a three-hour session.
Another important activity of the Foundation is the development of cancerforumonline.org, an online resource for patients with cancer and their families. MDCSCO members will be included in a video library being created on the site, as well as given the opportunity to submit papers for posting. Through the Foundation, MDCSCO can reach the public without having to take on the logistical and community connections challenges involved in event management.
To learn more about MDCSCO, visit mdcscoweb.org