Dec 19, 2017
By Hilary Adams, ASCO Integrated Media and Technology
In light of the shifting political landscape and changes to Medicare reimbursement for physicians, it is more important than ever that members of the oncology community stay in touch with their Congressional representatives to ensure funding for cancer research is secure and that patients with cancer have access to standard-of-care treatment without facing financial hardship.
To facilitate this line of communication with lawmakers, ASCO held the first Advocacy Summit in 2016 to great success: volunteer advocates urged lawmakers to support policies to advance interoperability in electronic health records, increase funding for medical research, and ensure oral parity in health insurance coverage for cancer drugs.
Building on this progress, nearly 100 ASCO volunteers from across the country came to Capitol Hill in September 2017 for the second annual ASCO Advocacy Summit. They urged Congress to act on major policy priorities to improve research and access to treatment for the more than 15.5 million people in the United States living with a history of cancer.
At the 2017 summit, ASCO volunteers asked members of Congress to stop a proposal from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that would apply Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) adjustments—a range of bonuses and penalties for providers—to Part B drugs.
“The proposed law would make physicians accountable for the total cost of care of the patient, which in theory sounds great,” said Barbara L. McAneny, MD, FASCO, during the summit. “But in reality, we get a lot more expensive medicines than, say, an internal medicine doctor treating diabetes or hypertension, so when you look at our total cost of care, for the average oncologist, it includes $2 million worth of chemotherapy.” Dr. McAneny expressed concern that oncologists would be effectively penalized for using the drugs necessary to treat cancer, driving practices out of business and leaving patients to fend for themselves.
Advocates also asked lawmakers to ensure patient access to necessary cancer treatment by supporting the Cancer Drug Parity Act, which would amend the Public Health Service Act to require group and individual health plans that cover anticancer medications administered by a health care provider to provide no less favorable cost sharing for patient-administered anticancer medications.
In addition, ASCO advocates encouraged their Congressional representatives to pass a Fiscal Year 2018 funding bill that increases funds for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion.
“We’re at a critical time for drug discovery, and without federally funded research, we’re going to lose out. That means fewer cures and more patients dying,” said Beverly Moy, MD, MPH, while on the Hill. “It also affects the cancer researcher and people who are trying to make important discoveries for our patients. They’re losing out on major opportunities to continue their careers.”
In interviews conducted during the summit, ASCO volunteers spoke passionately about these issues and why it is critical for the oncology community to be vocal on Capitol Hill. Videos from the summit are available on ASCO’s YouTube channel.
At a reception on Capitol Hill, ASCO presented its Congressional Leadership Award to Representative Leonard Lance (NJ-7), to recognize his commitment to advancing policies that improve research and treatment for people with cancer. Nearly a dozen members of Congress attended the reception, and many spoke about their own experiences with cancer. During a breakfast meeting at the summit, Representative Brian Higgins (NY-26) said, “The only failure in cancer research is when you quit because of a lack of funding. We [in Congress] need your expertise to say it takes decades of sustained research investment to test the safety and efficacy of cancer drugs.”
ASCO also presented its Advocate of the Year Award to Robin Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO, for her significant advocacy work on behalf of individuals living with cancer and their cancer care teams. ASCO also recognized other advocacy champions who have been exceptionally active in ASCO’s advocacy activities throughout the year.
ASCO members who could not attend the summit in person participated in a Virtual Hill Day by sending letters to their Congressional representatives, urging them to take action on key cancer care issues. ASCO members can still use the ACT Network to send messages to their elected officials to encourage them to act on these priority issues.
It's Not Too Late: Get Involved Today
Join a group of passionate advocates who are helping to shape the future of oncology through ASCO's ACT Network. No legislative advocacy experience is necessary; ASCO provides the tools necessary to create and sustain these relationships. Once you sign up, you will receive timely updates on the latest Congressional and regulatory activities and updates on emerging policy issues that interest you. All ASCO members are invited to participate.
The ASCO ACT Network provides many different opportunities to become engaged in advocacy:
- Send a message using the pre-drafted editable alerts
- Find phone numbers and mailing addresses for your elected officials
- See how your member of Congress votes on the key issues
- Draft your own message to your member of Congress to send via email or as a letter
Watch the “Advocacy 101 Guide: Preparing ASCO Advocates for Legislative Success” video on ASCO.org to get started.
Top Tweets from the Summit
“Thanks to all the members of#Congress & staff who met w/@ASCO advocates today about #cancer policy priorities #ASCOAdvocacySummit”
“TY @RepBrianFitz for your advocacy to help ensure access to cancer care. @ASCO #ASCOAdvocacySummit”
“Increased funding for the NIH and NCI would not happen without the constant advocacy by @ASCO and oncologists #ASCOAdvocacySummit”
“Extremely productive day on Capitol Hill! Thank you @ASCO for advocating for our patients! #ASCOAdvocacySummit”