By Thomas Eichler MD, FASTRO, Immediate Past Chair; Shane Hopkins MD; Ankit Agarwal MD, MBA; Shilpen Patel MD, FASTRO
For the first time in two years, ASTRO members converged on Chicago for five days in October to celebrate the specialty, partake in educational and scientific sessions and advocate on behalf of our patients at the 63rd Annual Meeting. In the immediate aftermath, however, the Radiation Oncology Alternative Payment Model (RO Model) final rule was released, in addition to final rules for the MPFS and the HOPPS. Although cosmetic changes were made with a few modest tweaks, all three rules remain flawed, in particular the RO Model, despite relentless ASTRO advocacy and engagement with CMMI to achieve fair and predictable reimbursement. Radiation oncology stakeholders, including the American Medical Association (AMA), have weighed in and made their opposition to the rules known. ASTRO is pleased to partner with the AMA to advocate for the specialty regarding reimbursement changes associated with the RO Model.
As the AMA prepared to meet in November, ASTRO was disheartened to learn that we may lose our representation at the AMA’s House of Delegates. The “federation of medicine” includes delegations representing states and specialties, but membership in the House of Delegates requires a certain percentage of each society’s membership to also be members of the AMA. Unfortunately, ASTRO has fallen short in that measure. We are currently in a one-year probation period after which ASTRO’s voice will be silenced in the House of Delegates.
My friends, it is absolutely critical that we continue to have ASTRO delegates at the table to advocate and testify at the AMA in support of radiation oncology interests.
As we interact with other physicians on social media, skepticism is occasionally heard regarding AMA representation for radiation oncology. More often than not, however, the person with these concerns is unaware of the advocacy routinely done by the AMA benefiting radiation oncologists without fanfare. The AMA is one of the largest lobbying groups in the country, and the value of having them go to bat for us simply can't be replaced. For example, the AMA sent a detailed letter to CMS regarding the RO Model reflecting ASTRO’s concerns, albeit with the weight of the whole of organized medicine behind it. Recall that the AMA was instrumental in combatting SGR cuts for two decades until its repeal in 2015. In addition, the AMA has successfully fought insurance mergers, such as the Anthem-Cigna merger that would have cost physicians $500 million dollars in payments annually. The AMA has been a leading voice on reforming prior authorization burdens and will be representing physician interests on the upcoming S.3018 bill. In short, the Association has fought against perennial challenges to our autonomy as physicians, including scope of practice issues, with major successes benefiting every one of us, even if many of us are unaware. To the benefit of all, the AMA has also been a trusted voice in communicating scientific information about COVID-19 to the public.
In order for ASTRO to maintain their seat at the AMA table with the ability to testify and vote on the sundry concerns that affect our specialty and all of medicine, we need you to join the AMA. Please consider joining right now to keep the largest physician voice in Washington in close sync with ASTRO on radiation oncology issues. Consider your AMA dues a sound investment with a proven track record. Threats to reimbursement and physician autonomy are, and will remain, ongoing, and although the AMA is just one stakeholder, they remain the single most powerful voice advocating on behalf of all physicians. Act now: join or renew your membership today. It is imperative that ASTRO maintain their voice within the AMA House of Delegates! Please help us meet this challenge!
Thomas Eichler MD, FASTRO
Immediate Past Chair, ASTRO Board of Directors
Shane Hopkins MD,
ASTRO Delegate to AMA
Ankit Agarwal MD, MBA
ASTRO Alternate Delegate to AMA
Shilpen Patel MD, FASTRO
ASTRO Delegate to AMA