Congress may be recessed, but dialogue surrounding important legislative issues continue in the cancer community. August presents a prime opportunity to meet with your senator(s) and representative to discuss issues impacting cancer centers. If your member of Congress has not yet visited your cancer center, invite them to do so while they are home. Items worth discussing include:
• NIH Funding
• (21st Century) Cures in the Senate
• Medicare Payment Proposals Impacting Hospital Outpatient Departments
• Oral Chemotherapy Parity Legislation
NIH funding remains a top priority for AACI despite a recent victory in the House with the passage of H.R. 6, the 21st Century Cures Act in July. In June, House and Senate Appropriations Committees marked up Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 spending bills in their respective Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittees and aimed to significantly increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Talks between Republicans and Democrats stalled as July came to a close and when Congress returns after Labor Day, they must move quickly toward a budget agreement in order to avoid another government shutdown. The Fiscal Year begins October 1. Therefore, it is important that you ask your legislators to collaborate with their colleagues in order to lift the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act and support increased funding for the NIH.
Cures in the Senate
You can expect Cures discussions to heat back up when the Senate returns after Labor Day. While several leaders in the senate are looking to the biomedical research community for direction of the bill, it is important that the cancer community maintains the need for sustainable and predictable, mandatory, funding for the NIH in order to make continued progress in cancer research.
Medicare Payment Proposals Impacting Hospital Outpatient Departments
Site-neutral policy recommendations have been made recently in regard to hospital outpatient departments and physician offices, with the suggestion to equalize Medicare payments. This recommendation is of concern to our nation’s cancer centers. National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers and academic research institutions are the primary source of new discoveries into cancer’s causes, as well as the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.
Our nation’s cancer centers treat some of the sickest and costliest patients. A recent study prepared for the American Hospital Association determined that relative to patients treated in physician offices, cancer patients receiving care in hospital outpatient departments are often more likely to be:
• Minority or underserved patients
• Uninsured, self-pay, charity care or Medicaid patients
• Residing in areas of poverty, with lower household income and lower educational attainment
• Burdened with more severe chronic conditions and comorbidities
H.R. 2895, the Medicare Patient Access to Treatment Act, has been introduced in the House and would equalize payments between community-based cancer clinics and hospital outpatient departments. AACI strongly objects to site-neutral reimbursement proposals performed in a budget neutral manner at the expense of cancer centers and other hospital-based programs.
Oral Chemotherapy Parity Legislation
Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) have reintroduced oral chemotherapy parity legislation, H.R. 2739, the Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act, to require health insurance plans which cover traditional, intravenous chemotherapy drugs provide equal coverage for prescribed, orally-administered anticancer medications. They have garnered 23 cosponsors and are hoping to add additional members of Congress to the bill. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced S. 1566, the companion bill in the senate and are also looking to add cosponsors.
If your member of Congress has co-sponsored either bill, please thank them. There are several members of Congress who have expressed interest in cosponsoring the legislation but would like to hear from their constituents. If your representative or senator has not cosponsored H.R 2739 or S. 1566, please ask them to do so, because no patient should be forced to make difficult treatment decisions based on insurance coverage.