The Voice of Radiology Is Strong
Radiologists head to the Hill to meet their representatives and advocate for their patients.
This May, over 500 radiologists, fellows, and residents attended the annual Capitol Hill Day during the ACR® annual meeting.
This year, our lobbying efforts focused on three key issues: advocating for Medicare coverage of CT colonography screening (CTC), preserving patient access to preventive screens such as mammography and low-dose CT scans to detect lung cancer, and opposing potential cuts to National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.
H.R. 1298, the CT Colonography Screening for Colorectal Cancer Act of 2017, would require Medicare to provide patients with a minimally invasive way to be screened for colorectal cancer. Expanded patient access to other screening procedures outside of optical colonoscopies is truly imperative, as colonoscopy screening rates are currently at 62 percent . To date, private insurers are providing coverage for CTC in 37 states and the District of Columbia. H.R. 1298 is legislation designed to ensure that patients ages 65 and older obtain access to life-saving CTC screening procedures. Although there is currently no Senate companion bill, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has expressed an interest in reintroducing CTC legislation in the upper chamber in the coming weeks and months.
Radiologists also lobbied to maintain patient access to various preventive screening examinations, as it is still uncertain what will become of this policy if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is ultimately repealed and replaced. ACR members were especially focused on ensuring that Congress does not repeal section §2713 of the PPACA, which requires private insurance companies — both within the individual and group (employer-based) markets — to provide preventive specific screening services that are reviewed and approved by select federal agencies and government advisory bodies, without any form of cost-sharing such as co-payments, coinsurance, or deductibles.
Although our colleagues were lobbying to retain the government mandate that private insurance companies offer individuals access to preventive care without any out-of-pocket charges, the ACR continues to voice disagreement with the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), one of the government advisory bodies that issues recommendations regarding the types of preventive screening services insurance companies are mandated to provide patients. The ACR continues to oppose USPSTF’s recommendations focused on providing screening mammography every two years from age 50 to 74, putting at risk coverage of annual screening mammography, beginning at age 40, which would result in fewer lives saved.
Finally, we urged our representatives to reject the proposed $5.8 billion cut in NIH funding proposed by the Trump Administration’s 2018 Fiscal Year budget. As recently as December 2016, the ACR supported provisions in the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, which authorized $4.8 billion of new NIH funding to go toward life-saving initiatives such as the Cancer Moonshot.
This year, political advocacy was in full force both on Capitol Hill and in a digital context. ACR 2017 also coincided with the official launch of the Radiology Advocacy Network (RAN) 2.0, which included a robust social media campaign encompassing Twitter, Facebook, and the ACR Engage community. Many radiology advocates, also known as #radvocates on Twitter, took to social media to document their experiences during Hill Day. (To view some of the images captured on Hill Day visit bit.ly/ACR2017Hill.) Additionally, ACR members used certain hashtags, such as #radvocacy, a tag that was included in 245 tweets on Hill Day alone and racked up 9,755 impressions, a number that represents a calculation of the hashtag’s popularity. The significance of impressions like these suggests our message can reach beyond those who tweeted that day or who make up the radiology community itself. We can make our political advocacy and grassroots efforts known in other health-care arenas in the global virtual world.
Additionally, for those who were unable to attend Hill Day, ACR launched a virtual Hill Day, during which radiologists could contact their representatives via a pre-generated “Call-to-Action” email, provided by the RAN. The email also included information on the topics discussed in person. Approximately 720 emails were sent that day, proving that radiologists all across the country care about the welfare of our patients and profession, whether or not they were able to actively participate in Hill Day.
We are fortunate to have a government relations team that is among the strongest in Washington, but it is also imperative that radiologists play an active role in advocacy efforts all year round. By having boots on the ground in practices and institutions, we can truly understand how advocating for these issues is paramount. We also know the possible deleterious consequences of taking no action. Furthermore, it is equally important that trainees have a vested interest in advocacy efforts, as the future of health care, radiology legislation, and new payment and practice models are going to affect trainees the most.
The crucial takeaway from ACR Hill Day 2017 is that the voice of radiology is strong and roaring, now more than ever. In a time of health-care uncertainty and perpetual change, radiologists are stepping out of the dark to fervently advocate for their patients and profession. As ACR develops new ways for members to reach a wider audience with our advocacy efforts, we will strengthen our outreach and simultaneously ensure an optimistic future for our profession.
By Amy K. Patel MD, breast radiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston