The importance of getting involved for gastroenterology
On Sept. 20, 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in AGA’s Advocacy Day for the second time, joining 40 of our gastroenterology colleagues from across the United States on Capitol Hill to advocate for our profession and our patients.
The evening before Advocacy Day, we discussed strategies for having a successful meeting on Capitol Hill with AGA staff (including Kathleen Teixeira, AGA vice president of government affairs, and Jonathan Sollish, AGA senior coordinator, public policy). We discussed having our “asks” supported with evidence, and “getting personal” about how these policy issues directly affect us and our patients. We also had the chance to hear from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), both of whom invited our questions. Both congressmen are friends of AGA, with Rep. McGovern serving as chair of the House Rules Committee, and Sen. Blunt serving as chair of the Senate Labor–Health & Human Services Subcommittee on Appropriations.
Advocacy Day began with a group breakfast during which we reviewed some of the policy issues of central importance to gastroenterology:
- Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act (HR1570/S668), which enjoys strong bipartisan support, would correct the “cost-sharing” problem of screening colonoscopies turning therapeutic (with polypectomy) for our Medicare patients, by waiving the coinsurance for screening colonoscopies — regardless of whether we remove polyps during these colonoscopies.
- Safe Step Act, HR2279, legislation introduced in the House, facilitates a common-sense and timely (72 hours or 24 hours if life threatening) appeals process when our patients are subjected to step therapy (“fail first”) by insurers.
- Improving Seniors’ Timely Access to Care Act of 2019, HR3107, legislation in the House, eases onerous prior authorization burdens by promoting an electronic prior authorization process, ensuring requests are approved by qualified medical professionals who have specialty-specific experience, and mandating that plans report their rates of delays and denials.
- National Institutes of Health research funding facilitates innovative research and supports young investigators in our field.
Full of enthusiasm, our six-strong North Carolina contingent (pictured L-R, Ziad Gellad, MD, MPH, AGAF; David Leiman, MD, MSPH; Animesh Jain, MD; Anne Finefrock Peery, MD; Lisa Gangarosa, MD, AGAF, chair of the AGA Government Affairs Committee; and Amit Patel, MD) met with the offices of Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), and both North Carolina senators, Richard Burr (R) and Thom Tillis (R), on Capitol Hill to convey our “asks.”
At Rep. Price’s office in the stately Rayburn House Office Building, we thanked his team for cosponsorship of H.R. 1570 and H.R. 2279. We also discussed the importance of increasing research funding by the AGA’s goal of $2.5 billion for NIH for fiscal year 2020, noting that a majority of our delegation has received NIH funding for our training and/or research activities. We also encouraged Price’s office to cosponsor H.R. 3107, sharing our personal experiences about the administrative toll of the prior authorization process for obtaining appropriate and recommended medications for our patients – in my case, swallowed topical corticosteroids for patients with eosinophilic esophagitis.
We moved on to Sen. Tillis’s office, where we thanked his office for cosponsorship of S. 668 but encouraged his office to cosponsor upcoming companion Senate legislation for H.R. 2279 and H.R. 3107. Our colleague capably conveyed how an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patient he saw recently may require a colectomy because of delays in appropriate treatment stemming from these regulatory processes. We also showed Tillis’s office how NIH funding generates significant economic activity in North Carolina, supporting jobs in our state.
After a quick stop at the U.S. Senate gift shop in the basement to buy souvenirs for our kids, our last meeting was with Sen. Burr’s office. There, we also thanked his office for cosponsorship of S. 668 but encouraged him to sign the “Dear Colleague” letter that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has circulated asking the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to address the colonoscopy cost-sharing “loophole.” We discussed the importance of cosponsoring upcoming companion Senate legislation for H.R. 2279 and H.R. 3107, sharing stories from our clinical practices about how these regulatory burdens have delayed treatment for our patients.
You can get involved, too.
AGA Advocacy Day was a tremendous experience, but it is not the only way AGA members can get involved and take action. The AGA Advocacy website, gastro.org/advocacy, provides more information on multiple avenues for advocacy. These include an online advocacy tool for sending templated letters on these issues to your elected officials.
Perhaps now more than ever, it is crucial that we get involved to support gastroenterology and advocate for our patients.
Dr. Patel is assistant professor, division of gastroenterology, Duke University, Durham, N.C.; member, AGA Clinical Guidelines Committee.