Earlier this week, 25 ASCRS member ophthalmologists and 15 ASOA practice administrators representing 22 states and 36 congressional districts took time out of their busy schedules to attend the Alliance of Specialty Medicine’s Legislative Fly-In. The annual advocacy conference brings together 13 medical specialty groups to Washington, D.C., to lobby for key policy priorities. Attendees meet with their Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill to outline important issues and ask them to take action. This year’s ASCRS•ASOA Fly-In group was our largest ever and included five ASCRS residents and fellows who attended via the inaugural ASCRS Young Eye Surgeons (YES) Legislative Fly-In Scholarship Program, designed to enhance younger members’ understanding of public policy issues affecting ophthalmology and provide networking opportunities with established ASCRS members, including leadership.
Topping the list of this year’s legislative priorities was the delay of the implementation of MACRA to give doctors more time to transition to the new payment program, as well as other changes to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) proposed rule, such as minimizing the reporting burden and providing more flexibility for small and solo practices. In addition, attendees urged legislators to put pressure on CMS to restore the quality measures group reporting option, such as the current Cataract and Diabetic Retinopathy Measures Groups, which required practices to report on 20 patients using measures centered on particular conditions or procedures. During meetings with their legislators, Fly-In attendees sought Congressional support on these MACRA-related issues and shared personal stories to illustrate how health care policy affects their own practice and patient care. In addition to MACRA, attendees thanked their House representatives for passing H.R. 6 (the 21st Century Cures Act) last year, and urged the House and Senate to work together to enact medical innovation legislation this year. Lastly, Fly-In attendees urged Congress to require greater accountability and transparency from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
In addition to meeting with their legislators on the Hill, attendees of the Fly-In heard from several Representatives, Senators and other health policy experts, who spoke to the group on a number of health care-related topics. Congressional member speakers included Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC-01), and Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD (R-IN-08). Kate Goodrich, MD, director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality Centers at CMS, gave a presentation on MACRA payment reform and quality, which followed an informative MACRA presentation and panel discussion by members of key Congressional health committees. ASCRS President Kerry Solomon, MD, served as moderator during the Tuesday morning program, which preceded the Congressional visits on the Hill.
On Wednesday morning, as the Fly-In was winding down, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on MACRA in which CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt was the only witness. The Alliance of Specialty Medicine submitted testimony for the hearing that outlined the concerns and recommendations for implementing the proposed rule that were the focus of the Fly-In. During the hearing, Acting Administrator Slavitt noted that the agency is taking physicians’ concerns seriously and is open to some changes, including a start date later than January 1, 2017, as well as shorter reporting periods. The final rule from CMS is expected this fall.
The Fly-In closed with speaker Charles E. Cook Jr., editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, who treated the group to an entertaining analysis of the 2016 election. Members who are interested in attending next year or getting more involved in other grassroots advocacy efforts should contact Tami O’Brien, manager of PAC and grassroots, at email@example.com or 703-591-2220.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) (l) meets with ASCRS President Kerry Solomon, MD
YES Fly-In Scholarship winners (l-r) Thandeka Myeni, MD, Courtney Bovee, MD, Edmund Tsui, Aakriti Garg, MD, and Amir Moarefi, MD meet with Sen. Rand Paul, MD (R-KY) (center)
Sen. Rand Paul, MD (R-KY) addresses the attendees of the Alliance of Specialty Medicine Fly-In. Pictured with ASCRS President and Day 1 Moderator Kerry Solomon, MD and ASCRS member Frank Burns, MD of Louisville.
ASOA Past-Presidents Bob Cherewich and Suzanne Bruno snap a “selfie” with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)