When I went to Medical School back in the Jurassic Age, the only policy I learned was centered around use and cleaning of the coffee maker (we didn’t have “machines” in those days) in the hallway of our main building. But, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve noticed that health care policy drives much of what we do. What’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act? How will the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) impact us? How about oral parity? What are the unintended consequences of tighter laws surrounding opioid prescriptions?
Prior to my election as President of ASCO, I was only marginally involved in any of these discussions. (I thought MACRA was a dance one did at wedding parties in the ‘90s.) In medical school and my training, health policy was simply not on the radar screen, and we were taught little or nothing about it. That circumstance has to change, and ASCO is helping to do so. What an eye-opener it has been for me. I’ve been drinking from a fire-hose (to mix metaphors) of information regarding the carefully thought-out stands that ASCO has taken on all of these issues.
These policy issues fundamentally affect us, our practices, and most importantly, our patients. As I hope you are aware, ASCO has our backs. It will come as no surprise to you that there is a science to development of the patient-oriented positions that ASCO develops through our volunteer Government Relations Committee (GRC). Indeed, understanding and making meaningful changes to health policy has become a major focus of ASCO.
To enhance this effort, in 2016 the Society initiated a Health Policy Fellowship to give early career oncologists the skills they need to shape policies related to cancer. The ASCO Health Policy Fellowship program has several components, including:
- Active participation in policy development for high-impact issues in oncology
- Small-group teaching sessions delivered by ASCO professional staff and qualified volunteers on topics such as the Congressional authorization/appropriation process, U.S. Food and Drug Administration organization and regulatory authority, drug and device approval processes, and payment reform initiatives
- Training in communication and leadership skills, as well as advocacy strategies
- A mentored research project on one of nine preselected topics that advances or leverages an ASCO policy initiative.
- Meetings with lawmakers in Congress and federal agencies
The first “class” consisted of Dr. Robert M. Daly of the University of Chicago Cancer Center and Dr. Steve Y. Lee from the NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Daly is working on a project regarding drug policy and disparities, mentored by Dr. Ray Page (a community oncologist in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Dallas, and a leader in the ASCO State Affiliate Council program), while Dr. Lee, mentored by Dr. Deborah Schrag (from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and one of the experts in the field of oncology health services research) is addressing health disparity issues that may come about as a function of adoption of MACRA. Heady stuff for two folks fresh out of their training.
This is not a fluff award to build their academic curriculum vitae. Their work will lead to productive changes in ASCO policy regarding each of these initiatives. I’ve seen both of these physicians in action, and believe me, they are up to the task. I cannot wait to see their final products and recommendations.
This program builds on ASCO’s ongoing strategy to create leadership training programs that address meaningful solutions to perplexing problems. Roughly a decade ago, led by then-President Dr. Robert J. Mayer and our past CEO Dr. Allen Lichter, ASCO began the Leadership Development Program (LDP). Each year, roughly a dozen of the best and brightest are chosen to roll up their sleeves and learn to be a leader of tomorrow while investigating a meaningful project to improve the Society. Take a look at the last several classes. You may recognize the names of several ASCO leaders – and perhaps someone who is now your boss (or on her way to becoming so) at your own institution!
We have to thank our friends in the Conquer Cancer Foundation for their vision in supporting these programs. Like so many of our initiatives, they have worked hard to come up with the funds to underwrite the Health Policy Fellowship. Even if you’re not anxious to apply, if you belong to ASCO you will benefit from this program. I shamelessly urge you to go online and make your donation today – trust me, it will be used wisely.
Did I whet your appetite? If so, and if you’ve got an interest in health policy, and – as my old boss Dr. Tom Frei used to say “if you’ve got a motor” – apply! If you’re fortunate to be chosen, I think you’ll find this opportunity is a game changer for you, and for ASCO.