June 02, 2017

Radiologists Bring ACRs Message to Capitol Hill

An estimated 500 radiologists went to Capitol Hill May 25 as part of ACR 2017 to lobby their senators and representatives to support the American of College of Radiology’s (ACR) legislative priorities to obtain Medicare coverage for screening virtual colonoscopy, preserve patient access to lifesaving imaging-based screening exams and to oppose a proposed fiscal year 2018 budget cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Over the past decade, the ACR’s annual Capitol Hill Day has served as one of the most effective ways to inform members of Congress about radiology’s top legislative priorities.

“To have individual radiologists establish personal relationships with a member of Congress is instrumental to advancing our key legislative priorities and serving as a primary resource on radiology or health care in general,” said Chris Sherin, ACR director of congressional affairs. “The actual relationships are quite important to our advocacy agenda," he added.

Rebecca Spangler, ACR director of congressional affairs, noted the annual Capitol Hill event has led to major legislative victories, such as the repeal of the Sustainable Growth Act, a Congressional directive requiring Medicare to  implement mandatory appropriate use criteria and clinical decision support for advanced imaging, delayed implementation of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s (USPSTF's) controversial screening mammography recommendation and rolling back the Medicare multiple procedure payment reduction rate (MPPR).

This year, ACR members fanned out from their arrival point near the U.S. Capitol building to encourage their elected representatives to support three legislative priorities. Members of Congress were asked to assure preventive screening will remain protected in Section 2713 of the Patient Project and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). They sought assurances that such preventive screens as screening mammography, CT colonography (CTC) and CT lung cancer screening are exempted from cost sharing for patients covered by private insurance as Congress moves forward with PPACA repeal and replace. ACR members also advocated in favor of legislation requiring Medicare to cover virtual colonoscopy as a screening option for colorectal cancer, a screening tool that is already covered by private insurers in 37 states and the District of Columbia, but remains unavailable to Medicare beneficiaries. And, they were asked to make sure NIH is adequately funded for fiscal year 2018 including a commitment to oppose a $5.8 billion cut proposed for NIH in the president’s budget.

Following Capitol Hill Day, the ACR government relations (GR) staff will remind participants to continue to communicate with their elected officials about these priorities and to either begin new or strengthen existing relationships with their lawmakers and staffs. The GR staff will seek cosponsors to mandate Medicare coverage of CTC and other lobbying priorities.

During his Capitol Hill visit, Ivan M DeQuesada II, MD, a neuroradiologist with Radiology Associates in Fort Worth, TX, found that his representative Rep. Kay Granger and her aide Suzi Plasencia were already sympathetic to all three priorities.

“Most of the conversation were just educational,” DeQuesada said. “I didn’t think we had to advocate much in the sense that she was already on the same page with us.”

Capitol Hill Day was a new experience for Lauren Harry, MD, a fourth-year resident at Indiana University School of Medicine. She joined members of the ACR Indiana delegation to visit Sens. Todd Young and Joe Donnelly and Rep. André Carson. The conversation with Carson focused on lung cancer screening and mammography because of the high prevalence late-stage breast cancer and lung cancer in Marion Country, which is part of Carson’s district.

“He knows the kind of things we need to do to protect his constituents from lung, colon and late-stage breast cancers,” Harry said.

The meeting between the North Carolina ACR delegation and Rep. Ted Budd considered the ramification of possible NIH budget cuts on his district, home to Wake Forest University, a major NIH-sponsored research site. Lynn Anthony, MD, president of the North Carolina Radiology Society and associate dean of faculty affairs at Wake Forest, described what the cuts would mean to the faculty and their work.

Kevin L. Smith, MD, a diagnostic radiologist with Regional Diagnostic Radiology in St. Cloud, MN, informed his second-term Congressman, Rep. Tom Emmer, about lack of Medicare reimbursement for CTC. Emmer backs federal support for preventive screening, in part, because of his family’s experience with breast cancer.

“It was wonderful to educate him and also learn from Rep. Emmer about what’s happening on Capitol Hill,” Smith said.