The underlying tenet of the ACR’s advocacy efforts is that we cannot effect change for our profession and our patients unless we take our issues directly to decision makers. As I write this column, I am highly encouraged by the progress we have made so far this year in the advocacy realm. At the same time, developments on a daily basis remind me we cannot rest on a sense of accomplishment. In fact, significant new policy discussions have arisen, particularly around drug pricing, that will require each of us in the rheumatology profession to stay vigilant and involved to ensure our patients’ access to care is protected.
In February, I wrote about the persistent challenges we face in rheumatology, with specific attention to the most pressing potential hazards we faced at that time. This included a change by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that would have adjusted reimbursements for Part B drugs based on the prescribing provider’s performance in Medicare’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).
Thanks to the advocacy efforts of countless ACR/ARHP members and our partner specialty societies, Congress implemented our requested legislative fix to ensure this ill-conceived change would never happen. Better yet, in the same piece of legislation that fixed our issue with MIPS and Part B drugs, Congress permanently repealed the annual cap on therapy payments, closed the Medicare Part D donut hole one year early, finally repealed the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), and provided $2 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Thus, a feeling of accomplishment is justified.
In May, during our annual Advocacy Leadership Conference and Capitol Hill visits, a team of close to 100 ACR/ARHP leaders traveled to Washington, D.C., to promote rheumatology priorities. While there, we had a chance to thank lawmakers for this work, share concerns about additional challenges and make the case for assistance on other key issues. During the conference, we were joined by Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX), who was responsible for shepherding many of these legislative successes through Congress. Rep. Burgess said we need to stay persistent and keep engaging with policymakers on the major issues and proposals that will affect all of us and our patients.
This is a central question for us in rheumatology now. As responsive as policymakers have been, major policy discussions are taking place now that require all of us in the field of rheumatology to get involved personally. We need to educate policymakers and, in the process, protect our patients’ access to care and treatment, and the specialty itself.