Richard Schilsky, MD, Interview: Advocating for ASCO Members

Dec 19, 2011

ASCO is a powerful advocate for more than 30,000 members and their patients on issues of public policy relevant to health care, reimbursement, research funding, and other legislative matters that affect oncology. Richard L. Schilsky, MD, ASCO Past President and current Chair of the Government Relations Committee, discusses the Society’s priorities.

AC: A major policy priority during your term as Chair has been oncology drug shortages. What has the committee done in this arena?
Dr. Schilsky:
The drug-shortage issue has been very serious for our membership and, more importantly, for our patients. We’ve been trying to understand the cause of this issue by speaking to experts. We prepared and delivered testimony at a Congressional hearing on this issue, testified before the FDA, and held multiple briefings for staff and members of Congress. We’ve supported legislation that would give the FDA more authority to deal with drug shortages and have had hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill to raise the urgency of this issue. We’re now in the process of summarizing the range of potential solutions that have been suggested by our committee and other stakeholder groups to create a prioritized list of recommendations that Congress and other interested parties could consider. (Read more about ASCO’s work related to drug shortages.)

AC: What other issues has the committee focused on over the past year?
Dr. Schilsky:
We’re always monitoring Congressional funding for NIH and NCI and working with other stakeholder groups in the cancer community to advocate for the importance of funding biomedical research. We’ve staved off some earlier proposed cuts to Medicare payments and continue to pay close attention to the Congressional “supercommittee,” the group that’s been charged with developing significant budget reduction plans, and its intentions regarding the Medicare reimbursement rate for chemotherapy.

AC: How can ASCO members get their voices heard on policy issues?
Dr. Schilsky:
There’s the old saying, attributed to Tip O’Neill, that “all politics is local.” I’d go so far as to say that all policy is local as well. ASCO’s effectiveness depends on understanding what members need to do their jobs better. I encourage members to communicate with the Government Relations Committee by signing up for our new grassroots website ( to tell us what their views are and get guidance on how they can help advance ASCO’s policy agenda. ASCO members have the potential to be incredibly influential by talking about important issues in their community, writing op-ed pieces for their local newspapers, and talking to, visiting,or taking their patients to visit theirCongressional representatives.

Dr. Schilsky is Deputy Director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center. He served as ASCO President from 2008-2009 and has participated on numerous committees, including the Cancer Research Committee, the Scientific Program Committee, and the Conquer Cancer Foundation Grants Selection Committee, among others.
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