As we head into the last few weeks of the first session of the 115th Congress, it is likely that several pieces of “must pass” legislation will move through the process of becoming law. This “must pass” legislation can serve as a vehicle onto which other bills are attached and thus, also move successfully through the process for passage. I have highlighted below three such bills from the Action Alert section of the SurgeonsVoice website (www.surgeonsvoice.com) which could, with less than 5 minutes of your time, develop enough forward momentum to so move.
Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act
Increasing evidence indicates a current and growing shortage of surgeons available to serve our nation’s population. A shortage of general surgeons is a critical component of the crisis in health care workforce because only surgeons are uniquely trained and qualified to provide certain necessary, lifesaving procedures. Accordingly, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) is urging policy makers to recognize, through the designation of a formal surgical shortage area, that surgeons are an essential component of a community based health care system.
Unlike other key providers of the community-based health care system, general surgeons do not currently have a formal workforce shortage area designation. In light of growing evidence demonstrating a shortage of general surgeons, ACS believes that more accurate and actionable workforce data are necessary to determine exactly what constitutes a surgical shortage area for general surgery, and where these areas exist. Identifying where patients lack access to surgical services will provide HRSA with a valuable new tool for increasing access to the full spectrum of high-quality health care services. Determining what constitutes and defines a surgical shortage area is an important first step in guaranteeing all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of geographic location, have access to quality surgical care.
Mission Zero Act
It has long been a priority of the ACS to establish and maintain high-quality and adequately-funded trauma systems throughout the U.S., including within the Armed Forces. The Mission Zero Act, introduced by Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX), Representatives Gene Green (D-TX), Richard Hudson (R-NC), and Kathy Castor (D-FL) in the House of Representatives and Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in the Senate, would provide HHS grant funding to assist civilian trauma centers in partnering with military trauma professionals to establish a pathway to provide patients with the highest quality trauma care. As a result of these partnerships, military trauma care teams and providers will gain exposure treating critically injured patients and increase readiness for future deployments. Not only will this serve to maintain readiness among military providers, but it will facilitate the promulgation of the trauma lessons learned from the military theatres of conflict to the civilian world and potentially alleviate staffing shortages in civilian centers.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a joint federal and state program that provides health coverage to uninsured children from low-income families. In 2015, the CHIP program provided coverage to over 8 million children in the United States. In sum, CHIP ensures that these children have access to care. The ACS is very supportive of the CHIP program. The CHIP program ensures that a child’s health care concerns are addressed in a timely manner. Contrary to popular belief, many children currently covered by CHIP are not eligible to be covered under Medicaid and would therefore, be left uninsured if CHIP funding is not continued. The most recent reauthorization of this program extended funding for the CHIP program through Sept. 30, 2017, and funding for the program expired on that date. Urgent Congressional action is needed to reauthorize funding and thus, ensure that the children covered by CHIP continue to have access to the health care services they need.
The ACS strongly urges Congress to continue to make children’s health care a priority issue and accordingly, implores Congress to take action to reauthorize CHIP funding prior to concluding the business of the current session.
The SurgeonsVoice website provides an easy and efficient platform for surgeons to use to contact their senators and their representative to let them know of their support of these issues. Taking action on all three of these items would require the investment of less than 5 minutes of one’s valuable time. Our ability “to petition the government for a redress of grievances” is guaranteed by the First Amendment. I urge all Fellows to visit the SurgeonsVoice website and use it as a tool to exercise that right.
Until next month ….
Dr. Bailey is a pediatric surgeon and Medical Director, Advocacy, for the Division of Advocacy and Health Policy in the ACS offices in Washington, DC.