When Reshma Khan, MD, a rheumatologist with the Palm Beach Rheumatology and Wellness Center, Jupiter, Fla., relocated from Michigan four years ago, she wanted to connect with other rheumatologists in the area. Through the Florida Society of Rheumatology (FSR), she’s met many colleagues.
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The FSR is one of the oldest and largest rheumatology associations in the U.S. and holds the largest annual state association meeting, according to Guillermo Valenzuela, MD, a rheumatologist with Integral Rheumatology and Immunology Specialists, Plantation, Fla. Dr. Valenzuela is serving his second year as the society’s president.
“We have approximately 276 members and have been in existence for over 25 years,” Dr. Valenzuela says. “Our membership [comprises] rheumatologists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.”
Patient access to medication and services is one of the issues the FSR is currently working to address.
“One of the biggest barriers for patients in Florida is obtaining a referral and gaining access to a rheumatologist,” Dr. Valenzuela says. “Patients may present with symptoms of inflammatory back pain, but aren’t referred to a rheumatologist. There’s a lack of knowledge about rheumatic diseases, such as ankylosing spondylitis and others, and this can delay treatment for patients.”
The FSR also holds an annual advocacy day during the state legislation season, during which members can travel to the Florida capitol, meet with legislators and educate them about some of the biggest issues facing healthcare providers and patients in the state.
“It’s been a privilege to serve as president of the Florida Society of Rheumatology, and to advocate for many issues that would be beneficial to our patients,” Dr. Valenzuela says. “Though Florida has been slow to reel in the predatory actions of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the FSR has made it a priority to educate policy makers in Florida [about] how such practices negatively impact our patients.”
Although several bills, such as HB 373, which would have reformed Florida’s current step therapy protocols, died in the recent Florida legislative session, Dr. Valenzuela says the FSR will continue to advocate for step therapy reform and other issues affecting patients as they look toward the November elections.
Regarding step therapy, Dr. Valenzuela says, “If a patient is medically stable on a drug, the patient and doctor should receive a 60-day notice [in which] a decision can be made if the switch will be detrimental to the patient’s health or if the new drug would also control the patient’s disease state as effectively. If a change would be detrimental, the FSR believes the patient should be allowed to stay on [the prescribed] drug for the remainder of the insurance plan year, and then at that time a patient could once again shop during open enrollment for the best plan with the best drug coverage for their needs.”