Seeing the Big Picture

Aug 22, 2013

Government Relations Committee focuses on issues with long-term effects on cancer care


ASCO's Government Relations Committee (GRC) has set priorities (approved by the Board of Directors in 2013) to maintain focus on policy issues that directly affect oncology practice, cancer research, and patient care. In the following interview, Committee Chair Denis B. Hammond, MD, discusses current goals.

AC: Achieving a fair, stable payment environment for oncology practice is one of the GRC's major priorities. What is the Committee currently working on?

Dr. Hammond: We've made a lot of progress by actively working with Capitol Hill committees that have responsibility over payment reform in attempts to repeal the sustainable growth rate. There's a lot of synergy between the approaches that ASCO and other medical specialty organizations see as viable and the proposals that are coming out of the House Energy and Commerce, House Ways and Means, and Senate Finance Committees. The accomplishments in this area are incremental and still coming to fruition; however, the devil is in the details, and we will continue to watch closely. We've been working on a variety of approaches to mitigate the deleterious effects of the sequester. We continue to lobby for passage of a bill, HR 1416, which would exempt Medicare Part B drugs from the effects of the sequester. We are also supporting a bill that would remove the prompt pay discount from the average sales price formula to stabilize those payments.

AC: Ensuring adequate funding for cancer research is another goal. How is that proceeding?

Dr. Hammond: In May we had a lobbying day with like-minded organizations to advocate for increasing funds for the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Those agencies have taken a huge hit, not only in the federal budget but also as a result of the sequester. We explained to Congressional members that curtailing these research activities has a long-term, far-reaching downstream effect on progress and discovery. These complex research projects take years to develop, and the budgetary constraints being imposed now will have effects on the nation's health for years to come. There was a lot of goodwill during those meetings, but the current budget environment is extremely challenging, and we're waiting to see how the budgetary process works itself out.

AC: What other issues are being addressed by the GRC?

Dr. Hammond: We're continuing to put pressure and financial support behind the FDA to help mitigate the problem of drug shortages. As best we can tell, the drug-shortage problem has improved slightly since 2010-2011, but it certainly has not gone away. We continue to survey ASCO membership about that problem (see ASCO Continues to Survey Members on Drug-Shortage Impact).

The Senate has proposed, and ASCO supports, a bill called the Tobacco Tax Equity Act (SB 194). Tobacco products such as loose-leaf tobacco currently are not taxed in the same way as cigarettes and cigars. This bill would tax those items at the same rate. ASCO President Dr. Clifford Hudis has sent a letter to the appropriate committees endorsing that piece of legislation. Any ASCO members talking to their legislators can also endorse this bill.

Dr. Hammond is a retired community oncologist, formerly of New Hampshire Oncology-Hematology. An ASCO member since 1988, he has served in numerous volunteer positions, including on the Board of Directors and the Clinical Practice Committee, and with the Northern New England Clinical Oncology Society (an ASCO State/Regional Affiliate), where he is the current Secretary/Treasurer.

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