Political Leaders Need to Hear the Voice of Gastroenterology
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Tom Price, R-GA, an orthopedic surgeon and member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee that has jurisdiction over the Medicare program. Dr. Price has been a champion for physicians, particularly specialty physicians like gastroenterologists. Given his position on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and as a member of the House Doctors Caucus, Dr. Price wields tremendous influence over health-care policies impacting physicians and our patients.
Lack of CMS Transparency
I spoke with Rep. Price about the recent cuts that upper endoscopy codes took under the 2014 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) Final Rule and the lack of opportunity that we had to comment on these changes since they appeared in the final rule. CMS chose not to include any of these changes in the proposed rule, which would have allowed our societies and physicians to comment and prepare for significant payment changes. Dr. Price is well aware of the lack of transparency at CMS and has weighed in with the agency by signing the Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, “Dear Colleague” letter, as well as by submitting report language to the Labor, HHS Appropriations Bill to require CMS to publish any changes in physician values in the proposed rule.
Impacts of the Cuts
Specifically, I conveyed to Rep. Price the impact that a 36 percent cut to esophagoscopy ultrasound exam (EUS) procedures will have on my practice and patients in Georgia. I am one of the few GIs in my area who perform this advanced endoscopic procedure, which is used to treat and diagnose lesions, often in very sick patients. This is a stressful and intensive procedure for which risks are great and the stakes are high. When dealing with the need to diagnose a potentially life threatening cancer (for example, pancreas cancer), there simply is not much room for error. Cuts of this magnitude will undoubtedly impact physicians’ ability to continue to provide this lifesaving procedure — gastroenterologists will be unable to afford to do this type of procedure. Rep. Price was very empathetic to our argument and offered to continue to be helpful in any way he can.
We Need to Have a Voice
Given the increasing intersection between politics and medicine and the decisions coming out of Washington that impact how we practice medicine, it is more important than ever for GIs to be involved in the political process. Rep. Price has stressed that message many times, and it is one of the reasons why he ran for office. Given that the colonoscopy codes are currently being reviewed by CMS, the stakes couldn’t be higher for our profession. So get involved, because if you don’t advocate for gastroenterology, no one will.
Your involvement at the grassroots level is imperative to ensure success as we engage with lawmakers and regulators to protect the viability of GI practices and to protect Medicare beneficiary access to GI endoscopy services. To learn more about how you can get involved, please contact Navneet Buttar, AGA government and political affairs manager, at 240-482-3221 or Nbuttar@gastro.org.